Hon. Billie Tsien, Chair
Hon. Hazel Ruth Edwards, Vice Chair
Hon. Peter Cook
Hon. Rodney Mims Cook, Jr.
Hon. James McCrery
Hon. Justin Garrett Moore
Hon. Duncan Stroik
Thomas E. Luebke, Secretary
Frederick J. Lindstrom, Assistant Secretary
A. Approval of the minutes of the 15 September meeting.Secretary Luebke reported that the minutes of the September meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance.Upon a motion by Mr. R.M. Cook with second by Mr. Moore, the Commission approved the minutes.Mr. Luebke said the minutes will be posted on the Commission’s website.
B. Dates of next meetings.Secretary Luebke presented the dates for upcoming Commission meetings, as previously published:18 November 2021, 20 January 2022, and 17 February 2022.He noted that as is customary no meeting is scheduled in December.
C. Report on the approval of two groups of objects proposed for acquisition by the Freer Gallery of Art.Secretary Luebke reported Chair Tsien’s approval of the Smithsonian Institution’s proposed acceptance of two donations of groups of artworks for the permanent collection of the Freer Gallery; he noted that the approval of the Commission’s chair is required by a codicil to Mr. Freer’s will.One donation includes four paintings and three ceramic works from the late 19th and early 20th centuries by artists Otagaki Rengetsu and Tomioka Tessai.The other donation includes calligraphy and five ceramic works related to the Japanese tea ceremony, dating from the 13th to 17th centuries.Mr. Luebke said that the Commission has often visited the Freer Gallery to inspect the artworks proposed for acquisition; Chair Tsien said that she looks forward to doing this when in-person meetings resume.
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 the appendix has six projects, with no change from the draft that was circulated.Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Mr. Moore, the Commission approved the Government Submissions Consent Calendar.
Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions:Ms. Batcheler said that four cases listed on the draft appendix have been removed and are being held open for consideration in a future month (case numbers SL 22-001, 22-019, 22-020, and 22-022).The recommendations for three projects have been changed to be favorable (SL 22-007, 22-011, 22-012), and the listing for one project has been revised from a concept to a permit submission (SL 22-018), based on further coordination with the applicants.Other revisions are minor wording changes and the notation of dates for the receipt of supplemental materials.She said that the recommendations for fifteen 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. McCrery with second by Mr. Moore, the Commission approved the revised Shipstead-Luce Act Appendix.(See agenda item II.E for an additional Shipstead-Luce Act submission.)
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions:Ms. Amos reported that no changes have been made to the draft appendix, which has 38 projects.Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission approved the Old Georgetown Act Appendix.
Mr. Luebke noted that in fiscal year 2021, which concluded at the end of September, the number of cases on the Government Submissions Consent Calendar was slightly lower than in the previous year, perhaps because of the Covid-19 pandemic and government agencies being uncertain about future funding in the context of last year’s presidential election.However, he said that the number of private-sector cases has held steady, with a total of 502 cases on the Shipstead-Luce and Old Georgetown appendices, exactly matching the total for fiscal year 2020.He also noted that the recommendations for Georgetown cases tend to be resolved when the appendix is prepared due to the intervening review by the Commission’s Old Georgetown Board, whereas the recommendations for Shipstead-Luce cases are often still being finalized by the staff because of the extremely short review period, as required under the authorizing legislation.Chair Tsien expressed the Commission’s appreciation for the staff effort in reviewing the large number of cases.
B. National Park Service
CFA 21/OCT/21-1,National Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial, West Potomac Park at the southwest corner of 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue, NW.Design for new memorial.Revised concept.(Previous:CFA 17/SEP/20-2)Secretary Luebke introduced the revised concept design for the National Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial, submitted by the National Park Service (NPS) on behalf of the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association.He said the Commission had approved the concept design in November 2019, endorsing the general direction and overall configuration of a memorial featuring a dynamic, asymmetrical composition of dune-like forms with symbolic narrative elements.In September 2020, the Commission had reviewed a revised concept design for the memorial but did not take an action, raising concerns about conceptual and artistic shortcomings, particularly regarding the form.In the current revision, the overall layout has not substantially changed; curving walls, with textures evocative of barchan dune forms, convey the image of the Kuwaiti desert as the fundamental framework for the design.In response to the Commission’s comments, major changes have been made to the sculptural program—most importantly, the removal of the freestanding sculptures of four soldiers and a service dog, which the Commission found to be ill-suited to the solemn character and abstraction of the memorial.Other changes include simplification of the bas-reliefs, reworking of the sculptures of two flying raptors at the dune wall, and revisions to the central water feature.Changes to the site design involve a new location for the memorial’s identification sign and modifications to how the primary berm will tie into the elevated earthwork levee that is part of the Mall landscape.
Following introductory remarks by Associate Regional Director Peter May of the NPS and Scott Stump, President of the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association, the design was presented by landscape architect Skip Graffam of OLIN.Mr. Graffam noted that the design team includes CSO Architects as well as sculptors Emily Bedard and Robert Eccleston.He gave a brief overview of the site, its context, and the proposed revisions to the design.The site is at the northeast corner of a Mall lawn panel north of the Lincoln Memorial, near the intersection of 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue.The intersection is significant for this particular memorial because of its dual relationship to diplomacy—the State Department headquarters is one block to the north on 23rd Street—and to ceremony, symbolized by Constitution Avenue.Proximity to the State Department represents the enormous diplomatic effort involved in forming the coalition of nations that united to liberate Kuwait; Constitution Avenue is notable as the route for the parade that welcomed the troops home after Desert Storm and Desert Shield.He added that the site’s proximity to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is also appropriate because Desert Storm inspired a transformation in the relation between civilians and the military in comparison with the hostility encountered by veterans returning from the Vietnam War.
Mr. Graffam said that the memorial’s location in a corner of the lawn panel will allow most of the panel’s green space to be preserved.The memorial’s various elements are intended to evoke the desert environment where the conflict took place:a landscape of dunes shaped by winds and storms, with an oasis offering water and shade.On an aerial view, he indicated how the barchan dune forms would have a slightly asymmetrical placement to subtly emphasize the primacy of the entrance along 23rd Street over the secondary entrance along Constitution Avenue.The dunes would be sited and shaped to form the central oasis within the memorial space, serving as a place for reflection as well as for respite.The inside faces of the two largest dunes, the Storm Wall and the Inscription Wall, would be covered with masonry panels that would be carved to suggest the form and texture of barchan dunes; their outer sides would be grass-covered berms.He said that one of the major strategies of the battle, the Left Hook maneuver, led to the coalition victory; this will be symbolized in the memorial through the configuration of its main path, which will follow a leftward curve as it leads up a slight grade to the central oasis.Seating within the memorial would allow visitors to see the commemorative elements and also views out to the Mall.He noted that the design team studied the dune forms in 3D computer models, finding that the memorial would offer a dynamic interplay of its curving forms with the natural light that will shift and change in the space throughout the day and the seasons, giving visitors a different experience each time they return.
Mr. Graffam said the memorial would continue the sequence of cultural sites along Constitution Avenue, with the expectation that the new memorial would encourage people to walk farther west to the Belvedere, which marks the historic termination of Constitution Avenue at the Potomac River.An associated project of tree planting would enhance the allées along nearby streets through the replacement of unhealthy or missing trees, including in the staggered allées encircling the Lincoln Memorial.He indicated the alignment for the top of a flood-control berm that could extend near the back of the largest of the memorial’s dunes; this berm would be at the height needed to serve as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers levee that is being built through the northern side of West Potomac Park.He noted that the levee design has not been completed, but if it is placed in this area, the land form would be able to accommodate the necessary grading without affecting the memorial.
Mr. Graffam said that the idea of “service” provides the memorial’s broad commemorative framework.He described the design revisions proposed for the Storm Wall, which has the theme of “Service in the Conflict.”The Storm Wall would display an extended sculptural narrative illustrating Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield and their resolution.The story would be arranged in three general sections—build up, conflict, and liberation—depicted in bas reliefs by sculptor Emily Bedard, representing the logistical and emotional sequence of the conflict.The curving wall would envelop and shape the space; visitors walking along it would experience the narrative sequentially through space.Overlapping forms and varying levels of relief would convey such effects as volume and perspective.The intensity of the scene would match the increasing and decreasing height of the wall:human figures in the foreground at the wall’s center would be carved in the highest relief, creating dramatic shadows; supporting elements, such as landscape, would be in lower relief, and allegorical elements would express larger themes and values.A crescendo from low to high relief would lead to the climax of the composition, the allegorical metal sculptures of two raptors flying up from the wall.
Summarizing the comments from the previous review, Mr. Graffam said that the Commission members were supportive of the memorial’s form, siting, orientation, and individual elements, but identified some ambiguity in the narrative content and described the texture of the Storm Wall as distracting.He said that the current submission has clarified the narrative on the wall, extending a consistent storyline throughout the memorial space to present a single, cinematic narrative leading through the conflict to the liberation of Kuwait.The bas-relief carvings have been simplified and integrated with the wall texture.He said the Commission had also questioned the depiction and the relative positions of the raptors, presented as detailed figures in the round flying above the Storm Wall.Sculptor Robert Eccleston has adjusted their positions so that the saker falcon, while following the bald eagle, begins to find its own trajectory, indicating the liberation of the independent country of Kuwait under the leadership of the United States, with the American military returning home after the conflict.
Mr. Graffam described the changes to the second dune wall, the Inscription Wall, with the theme of “Service and Sacrifice.”The Commission members had expressed concern about the conflict between the wall’s abstract imagery and the celebratory character of the freestanding sculpture group of four American soldiers that would have been placed in front.The elimination of this sculpture group results in emphasis on the wall’s solemn and reflective character.The wall would bear two inscribed quotations, one from Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf on the reason for the war and the other from President George H.W. Bush on the changed relation of the American people with the military.Two interlocking bas-relief wreaths would represent Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and the names of the different battles would run along the base.He indicated the direct visual relation that would be established between the central point of the Storm Wall and the location of Gen. Schwartzkopf’s quotation on the Inscription Wall.
Finally, Mr. Graffam described how the symbolic image of an ancient battle shield would be used to form the fountain, named the Unity Shield, that would occupy the center of the oasis space; the Unity Shield would commemorate the international coalition that worked together to defend and liberate Kuwait, and the theme of the space is “Service of the Coalition.”He said that the Commission’s previous comments on the fountain were largely positive, but with concern that the conceptual union of the shield with a meeting table created a form that was too bulky.The elimination of the table has now placed the focus on the shield, which has been slightly reduced in size; changes have been made to its surface pattern, including the addition of battle scars, and to the fountain basin.Water would emerge from the center of the shield and flow over its surface, and the scarring would create sparkling patterns in the water.The water would fall from the shield into the basin to create sound, enhancing the atmosphere of an oasis.The name of each country in the coalition would be written in its native language along the edge of the shield, and a slot behind the names would allow the water to fall into the basin behind the edge, leaving the names dry and visible.He noted that the water’s flow could be reduced to create a reflective surface or turned off entirely.
Chair Tsien thanked Mr. Graffam for his clear presentation and opened the review for discussion by the Commission members.
Mr. Stroik commented that the presentation had been very thorough, and he thanked the design team for revising the design in response to the Commission’s comments.He asked what kind of stone is being considered for the wall surfaces, how massive the walls would be, and the treatment of the stone joints.Mr. Graffam responded that the intent is to use granite because of its durability, with the expectation that the walls and their carvings will remain forever.The design team is looking for granite with a warm, golden color; although this is not common in granite, several possible varieties have been identified.The granites are being tested for hardness and other characteristics, and the resulting studies and mockups will be provided to the NPS for approval.He said that while it would be most desirable to use large blocks of stone, the granite would most likely be applied as a thick veneer, substantial enough to permit bas-relief carving, in pieces three to four feet wide.The jointing is still being studied but it would be incorporated into the texture of the wall.He said the procedure of adapting the design to the joints would be easier for the Inscription Wall, where the position of the text can be adjusted for the joints.He added that such decisions will be addressed further during the design development phase, following approval of the concept.Mr. Stroik asked if paint would be applied to highlight the carved inscriptions.Mr. Graffam said that this will probably be the procedure, similar to most other memorials; typically, the interior surfaces of the lettering are painted to help preserve them.
Commenting on the proposal for the fountain, Mr. Stroik asked about other Washington memorials that use water as an integral part of the experience, and whether this memorial’s fountain can be considered unique or traditional.Mr. Graffam responded that this fountain will be both unique and traditional.He said many national memorials in Washington include water as a design element, for example, the circular fountain at the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the grander, more celebratory fountain of the World War II Memorial.He emphasized that the fountain proposed for the Desert Storm Memorial is integral to creating the atmosphere of an oasis—a shaded space with running water that would be comfortable to inhabit on a hot summer day; he noted the cooling physical and emotional qualities of running water.He added that in addition to creating the feel of an oasis, the flowing, sparkling water would also accentuate the battle shield and its presence as an artwork.Mr. May provided a few other recent examples of memorials near the Mall that use water:the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial features water in the design of its inscription wall; the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial has a large, integral reflecting pool; and the central feature of the recently opened World War I Memorial is a very large, shallow pool.He said that using water is a common strategy for memorials in urban settings to incorporate sound and thus create an ambiance or mood.
Mr. McCrery commented that the memorial he considers the closest in character to the Desert Storm and Desert Shield is the exquisite Andrew W. Mellon Memorial Fountain, located at the intersection of Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues; it features a large, circular fountain, with water spilling evenly from an upper basin into a lower basin.Mr. R.M. Cook said that another example is the Capitol Reflecting Pool in Union Square, at the foot of Capitol Hill, situated directly in front of the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial.
Chair Tsien expressed appreciation for the new comments from the Commission members who had reviewed the previous submission last summer; she asked for the reactions of the other members, who were seeing this project for the first time.Mr. Moore said he had reviewed the prior comments in the Commission’s minutes, and he finds the current submission to be very responsive; the revisions successfully unify the design, creating a space and a memorial experience for visitors through the cinematic treatment of the Storm Wall.He observed that the selection and detailing of the stone will be important considerations, but he said that the combination of elements has been very well thought out.He added that the designers have found a way to create a space that will balance different experiences.
Mr. Moore said he would like to direct a broader question for the National Park Service, and for everyone engaged in the conversation about what the national commemorative landscape should contain and reflect.He noted that the Desert Storm Memorial is meant to be permanent, occupying a space in our national landscape and commemorating an important moment in American history, which he said is warranted and appropriate.However, he said it is important that those involved in the creation of memorials to begin to think in a more holistic and comprehensive way.He cited the finding from a recent audit of national monuments that 45 percent of the commemorative works on the Mall memorialize war.He emphasized that our national memory, with our shared American history, heritage, and culture, should be reflected in the commemorative landscape; a broader expression and different approaches are needed.While these issues are not necessarily relevant to this particular proposal, he emphasized that we need to think more carefully about who, what, and where we commemorate.
Ms. Tsien expressed her appreciation for Mr. Moore’s comments.She said this is her first time reviewing this proposal, and she feels the design team has succeeded in making a place that is thoughtful about the sacrifices people made in this conflict but which will also provide a welcome place of respite for people who are just passing through.She characterized the fountain as a place of calm in the eye of a storm.
Mr. R.M. Cook said he agrees with Mr. Moore that the revised design is a graceful response to the Commission’s previous comments; he added that the changes were simple but a clear improvement.He commented that many designers want to copy the Three Soldiers statue group at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, but the removal of the similar group of sculptures that was previously proposed for the Desert Storm Memorial has made it more elegant.However, he questioned the treatment of the two raptors, which he said seem slightly overdone and out of character.Ms. Tsien disagreed with this characterization, finding that the birds, as the one truly three-dimensional sculpture in the composition, appear almost a symbol of hope, and she strongly endorsed their inclusion in the design.
Mr. P. Cook agreed that the revised concept design is responsive to the Commission’s previous comments.He asked for more information on the materials proposed for the paving and for the battle shield.Mr. Graffam responded that the shield would probably be metal; he noted that stone had been considered for the earlier version of the shield, when the fountain design incorporated a table, in order to clearly distinguish between the two forms.He said that metal would make it possible to have the surface scars that would create the rippling movement of the water.He said that the memorial’s paving would be granite; for ease of construction, the pavers would probably be relatively small with a standard module, possibly square.The granite would either match the stone selected for the walls or would be in the same family; the pavement of the ground plane would have the appearance and texture of desert sand and would visually merge with the dune walls.He added that the pavers would be given surfaces of slightly different colors or textures to form a paved carpet with a swirling pattern to evoke the idea of blowing wind; the pattern may be a little amorphous and indistinct, and the intent is to avoid the need to produce many different custom pavers.
Mr. P. Cook asked if the memorial is designed for universal accessibility.Mr. Graffam responded that the circulation, including the access points, would be entirely accessible.He noted that the proposed grade change would be slight, approximately 2.5 feet along the entire circulation route; the grade would rise to its highest point at the center, which would provide a sense of arrival for visitors and allow clear views out, reconnecting people with the surrounding landscape.He said this memorial would have low landforms to respect its proximity to other memorials, while also providing a sense of seclusion from the Mall.He added that the memorial is intended to embody an affirmative feeling along with this connection to the larger landscape, and visitors should not feel completely enclosed.
Mr. Moore commented that tactile paving or similar detailing may be necessary around the edge of the fountain basin to signal the fountain’s presence to visually impaired people.Mr. McCrery identified another detail of the fountain basin, the double curve in the profile of the basin edge, which curves down and then lifts up; he said the water cascading off the shield would pool here, collecting debris and leaving an unsightly dark stain around the edge of the fountain.He advised redesigning the profile so that any water falling into this area would drain into the basin.Mr. Graffam said this detail is just an initial idea and is still being worked out by the design team, which will also consult with the fountain design firm, Fluidity, that has been engaged.He said the intent is that water will run over the shield and then fall into the basin to create sound.Water falling on the basin edge is meant to flow back easily into the pool; the lip of the basin is not intended to retain excess water, and the profile in the drawing is likely an error.He also agreed that the edge condition needs to incorporate elements to protect the public and comply with universal design standards.Ms. Tsien noted the high quality of Fluidity’s work.
Mr. McCrery asked how deep the water in the basin would be.Mr. Graffam responded that this will depend to a large extent on what depth provides the best auditory effect; while at least some water is desirable for the cascade to fall on, it does not need to be very deep to create sound.
Mr. P. Cook questioned whether the entrance along Constitution Avenue would interfere with a visitor’s understanding of the Left Hook representation in the intended primary circulation route that would begin along 23rd Street.Mr. Graffam responded that the design team has studied the circulation patterns of many other memorials; the conclusion is to allow this memorial to connect to the sidewalks of both Constitution Avenue and 23rd Street, and not to rigidly define the route or prevent people from entering along Constitution.He said that visitors arriving at the street corner would see the entrance to the south along 23rd Street when looking toward the Lincoln Memorial; the greater width of this opening would subtly suggest that this is the primary entrance.
Dr. Edwards expressed appreciation for the thoroughness of the design, which she called a thoughtful reflection on the service of those who participated in these conflicts.She noted the memorial’s close proximity to the busy intersection of 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue, as well as to the traffic from the Lincoln Memorial Circle and the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge.Mr. Graffam said that in order to preserve as much green space as possible, the memorial has a compact, focused design, especially in comparison to other memorials on the Mall that extend over a few acres and required considerable disturbance of the landscape in their construction.This memorial would occupy only about 18,000 square feet and would leave the majority of its lawn panel undisturbed.He said the intent is to create a place as close to the flow of pedestrians as possible so that this memorial will benefit from the large number of visitors to the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.He said that this urban location will necessarily be subject to noise and visual clutter, but preservation of the green space has remained a key goal.With the use of berms and flowing water to screen and shield the space from traffic and noise, as well as the open views to the Lincoln Memorial, he said that this memorial should feel like a refuge.
Mr. McCrery asked what plantings are being considered, noting that the presentation contained little information about this.Mr. Graffam responded that the design goal is to create a very lush backdrop of plantings around the central fountain area to enhance the impression of a desert oasis.The types of plants and their locations have not yet been determined; the palette would probably emphasize plants that are angular, spiky, and dynamic.Regarding tree selection, he noted that trees of the Middle East, such as the acacia, have much smaller leaves and a more open canopy texture than trees typically found in the eastern United States.Although Middle Eastern species would not be used here, the tree species would be chosen to create a comparable texture of dappled light.Mr. McCrery commented that the type of tree depicted in the renderings seems very effective; he also noted that the Commission has historically focused on landscape design as well as architecture.
Chair Tsien suggested bringing the discussion to a conclusion.Secretary Luebke noted that the design has already received full concept approval, and the main pieces of the memorial design have been established; nonetheless, an approval of the revised concept would be helpful as the project moves into design development.Chair Tsien suggested the Commission approve the proposal, with a request for further submissions to present the design development, along with mockups if possible.Mr. McCrery said that he is encouraged by the progress shown in the presentation, although the design needs more detail on elements such as the shield and other sculptures.Mr. May said the NPS would appreciate having an approval of today’s revised concept, noting that this would help advance the fundraising and other processes that have to be followed to bring a memorial design to conclusion.
Chair Tsien suggested approval of the revised concept design with the comments provided.Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Mr. Moore, the Commission adopted this action.
C. D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation
CFA 21/OCT/21-2,Stead Park Community Recreation Center, 1625 P Street, NW.Playground renovation and building additions.Revised concept.(Previous:CFA 15/APR/21-3)Secretary Luebke introduced the revised concept proposal for Stead Park.He said that the Commission had approved a final design for the project in April 2021, but the subsequent bidding process has resulted in the need to substantially reduce the project’s cost while largely retaining the intended program.The current proposal continues to include a large addition to the north of the park’s historic carriage house building, with the addition configured as a steel frame and broad canopy extending across open space and building volumes.However, the previous proposal to place much of the added building volumes below grade has been simplified to place the entire addition above grade in order to reduce the cost of excavation and materials.The site design includes a revised treatment of the park’s entrance area on the south toward P Street, which he said appears to be an improved design.The materials, finishes, programmatic spaces, and renovation of the carriage house remain comparable to the previous proposal; he noted the Commission’s recommendation in April 2021 for further coordination of the new carriage house windows with photographic documentation of its historic design.He asked the project manager, landscape architect David Wooden of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), to begin the presentation.
Mr. Wooden said that DPR asked the design team to maintain the program and the main ideas of the previously approved design; the result has achieved these goals and in some ways has improved the proposal.He introduced Joe Celentano and Michael Spory of VMDO Architects to present the revised design.
Mr. Celentano said that the previous design was successful, including its approval by the Commission, but the revision was necessitated by the current bidding market for the project’s construction.The current proposal retains the idea of placing the building addition within a steel armature, which remains in the design at the same height and footprint as previously approved; the major change is to move the proposed program areas to be above grade.He said that the result has improved the adjacencies and function of the building’s interior spaces, as well as the site design.He asked Mr. Spory to present the design in more detail.
Mr. Spory acknowledged the lengthy process of design for this project, as well as the multiple reviews by the Commission.He provided an overview of the project, noting the site’s location on the north side of P Street and several blocks east of Dupont Circle; the carriage house within the park, although not individually landmarked, is a contributing structure to the Dupont Circle historic district.The carriage house and proposed addition will serve as the community center, with a program that includes flexible multipurpose spaces, a large community room, and specialized areas including a demonstration kitchen and rooms for teenagers and senior citizens.He emphasized that the community center is intended to become DPR’s first net-zero-energy building; this is defined as generating all of the building’s energy needs on site, calculated on an annual basis, using renewable energy sources and not using combustion.
Mr. Spory presented a series of historic plans of the site.The carriage house originated as a complex of structures along the alley behind three row houses on P Street.By the early 20th century, the complex had been consolidated into a single structure behind a larger house occupying several lots; the new house’s side yard allowed the carriage house to be seen from P Street, and the architecture was embellished due to this increased prominence.In the 1950s, the property was donated to the District of Columbia and the site became a park, along with the lots on the north side of the alley and continuing into the block on the north; the carriage house was the only structure remaining on the park site.Significant renovations to the building and site occurred in the 1990s the early 2000s, and most recently in 2014.He said that the layered nature of the carriage house’s history will be evident in the community center, such as the bay spacing that recalls the width of the site’s past row houses.He presented photographs of the carriage house’s existing condition, indicating the trailer addition on the north that would be replaced by the proposed addition; the renovation of the carriage house would bring much of it back to its 1880s appearance.
Mr. Spory described several features of the proposed site design.An improved entrance area would be created along the P Street sidewalk, with a broad set of stairs and a ramp on the east; the view of the carriage house from the park’s entrance would be strengthened.An entry plaza would be located between P Street and the carriage house, surrounded by bioretention areas; he noted that the grade of the entry plaza was previously proposed to align with the P Street sidewalk, with steps at its north end, but it is now designed to match the prevailing grade of the park.The existing basketball court would remain in its current location to the west of the entry plaza; two play areas for different age groups would be located to the east and northeast, along the park’s east property line, and the existing splash pad to the east of the carriage house would be renovated.The splash pad would be partially sheltered by a solar canopy within the metal armature structure, and an additional bioretention area would be adjacent.
Mr. Spory said that the proposed work on the carriage house includes stabilizing the structure, removing the exterior paint on the existing brick, and renovating the interior.He noted that the brick restoration proposal has been developed with a historic masonry consultant, and the design for the replacement windows is still being determined in consultation with the D.C. Historic Preservation Office and the Commission of Fine Arts staff.The primary volume of the addition would be separated from the carriage house by a hyphen structure, which would be aligned with the alley to the west that leads to 17th Street.The addition’s height would align with the carriage house’s existing cornice line, a solution that was developed through the historic preservation consultation process; due to the low ceiling heights in the carriage house, the ground-floor level of the addition would be two feet lower to provide more generously scaled interior spaces.He indicated the previously proposed courtyard areas within the steel armature structure; these have been eliminated as a result of bringing the interior program spaces up to the ground-floor level.The project’s energy-related features remain in the design, including a solar canopy, solar energy panels, and an underground geothermal system; he noted that the solar canopy has been reduced by one bay on the east, pulling it away from the park’s east property line.The addition’s materials and detailing remain generally the same as previously approved, including the steel armature and a composite metal panel system; paint colors would be used to differentiate the panels, trim, and armature structure.
Mr. Spory presented the proposed interior plans.The first floor of the carriage house would contain an entrance vestibule and mechanical spaces; the hyphen would provide a sunlit open interior, with the large double-height community room to the north and other program spaces nearby on the first and second floors.The second floor of the carriage house would contain a room for senior citizens as well as an administrative office; the circulation and lobby space would provide opportunities for art display as well as a view down into the large community room.He said that a benefit of the revised layout for the addition is that more of the program space activities will be visible from grade-level windows, helping to give a sense of vibrancy to the park.
Mr. Spory presented elevations and perspective views of the proposal.He said that the steps along P Street would ascend three feet, and the entry plaza would slope 1.5 percent to reach the entrance grade of the carriage house.Comments on the design have included designing the entrance to be as welcoming as possible, and the community has requested open sightlines from the sidewalk into the park, which will enhance safety.He indicated the sightline from the P Street sidewalk to the carriage house, and he noted that the detail at the sidewalk edge would likely change from a concrete curb to a toe rail.He said that the blank brick wall on the side of an existing building to the west of the basketball court would be used for a new mural that is still being developed in consultation with the community.He emphasized the importance of providing a strong connection between the park’s entrance on the south and the large playing field on the northern part of the site, which is heavily used; the circulation route is to the east of the carriage house and addition, and he presented the perspective views to and from the top of the site’s entrance ramp that illustrate this connection.He indicated the area adjoining the splash pad that has been developed with more seating, as requested by the community; the seating provides a view of the playing field as well as the splash pad, and he said that the design provides a balance of shaded and sunny areas.
Mr. Spory concluded with several options for the elevation details on the addition.The issues include the appropriate spacing and rhythm of the facades; establishing a deferential relationship to the historic building; emphasizing the steel armature structure more than the enclosed volumes within it; and providing a sense of verticality.Options include different color combinations, the proportions of the panels, the use of perforated panels if affordable, and the selection of datum lines from the windows of the carriage house that could be extended into the design of the addition, as suggested by the D.C. Historic Preservation Office.He said that Option 1 is the preference of the design team.He noted that the revised interior configuration to eliminate below-grade spaces has resulted in a greater area of the facade being visible from P Street, increasing the importance of the design choices for the facade treatment.
Secretary Luebke summarized a comment letter from the Dupont Circle Conservancy; he said that the Conservancy supports the current concept proposal, and it cites the quality and clarity of the renderings.Another comment letter was provided by the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC), an elected body established by the D.C. Government, in the form of a resolution.He said that the ANC generally supports the current proposal, acknowledges the cost issue, and provides recommendations for further consideration in the development of the design.The concerns stated in the resolution include the loss of the outdoor adult fitness area, the reduction in outdoor programmable space at the entry plaza, and the removal of existing trees in this area.The ANC encourages consideration of alternatives to a chain-link fence surrounding the basketball court, improvement of the character for the outdoor space beneath the eastern end of the solar canopy, and more seating for the companions of children.The resolution also requests continued consultation of the project team with the ANC, the park’s users, and other stakeholders.Mr. Luebke noted that the impact on existing trees in the entry plaza area is actually less in the current proposal, because the existing grade of this area would be maintained instead of being greatly altered; he added that the concerns raised by the ANC could be addressed in the project’s design development phase.
Chair Tsien invited questions and comments from the Commission members.Mr. McCrery asked if the presented design already incorporates a response to the ANC’s comments.Mr. Spory responded that the project team met with the ANC the previous week and received the comments; some of the design response has already been incorporated into the proposal, such as providing a gathering space beneath the eastern end of the solar canopy.
Mr. Moore commented that the proposal has many improvements in comparison to the previous design, such as a simplified use of the space.Citing the ANC’s concern with providing more outdoor programmable space, he noted that the community is familiar with the existing park’s large area of flexible, programmable space; however, he observed that the proposed design does not seem well suited to providing a comparable flexibility for programming, because much of the site is devoted to paths and trees.He asked if the presented design is intended to respond to this ANC concern.Mr. Spory indicated the existing protected open space near P Street, currently used for community gatherings such as a book club or parenting group; he noted that the park has two entrance points nearby that are not prominent in the design.He said that the proposed entry plaza could accommodate some of these gatherings; the additional response, based on the recent meeting with the ANC, is to improve the design of the area between the building addition and the splash pad to accommodate more of these gatherings by providing additional outdoor seating and reducing the size of the adjacent bioretention area.Mr. Moore acknowledged this response but observed that the amount of space still seems constrained; he suggested working more closely with the community members to understand their desired types of activities, as the ANC has requested.He suggested laying out multiple scenarios for accommodating these activities within the site plan in order to determine whether the amount of space provided would be adequate.
Mr. Moore asked for clarification of the proposed stairs along P Street, observing that a planted area currently extends along the sidewalk.Mr. Spory responded that the proposed entry stairs would be approximately forty feet wide.Mr. Moore commented that this seems quite wide for the scale of the context and the street; he suggested further consideration of providing additional planting along this edge, as shown in one of the alternative designs, while acknowledging the community concern with providing adequate sightlines into the park.Joe Chambers of Landscape Architecture Bureau responded that additional planting near the sidewalk has been considered; an earlier concept had inserted two planters within the sweep of steps, positioned as extensions of the planting strips that flank the central area of the entry plaza.However, if these planters are level on top, the result is to create three-foot-high walls along the sidewalk edge; this problem could be addressed by pushing these planters back from the sidewalk edge by the depth of a couple of stair treads, but the result would be very small planters that probably could not accommodate a tree.The conclusion of this study was to eliminate the planters from the design of the stairs.He acknowledged that the resulting long sweep of stairs has a somewhat monumental scale and would have an unusual proportional relationship with the building, but he said that the stairs would have the advantage of being a memorable design feature that contributes to making a public space.He said that while not every urban public space should strive for prominence, this park has come to serve as the “town hall” for the neighborhood; it would serve many people and have a large building for community use.He added that the stairs could be used by the wider Dupont Circle neighborhood as a place to have lunch, beyond serving the park’s users; the broad width would provide adequate room for both seating and circulation.
Mr. Chambers addressed the concern about providing flexible outdoor spaces, observing that this issue is related to the process of obtaining neighborhood support for the project.He said that each specific program space has strong advocates in the community, with insistence that each activity should not be reduced from its existing facility in the park.The proposed design is intended to satisfy this community advocacy, while also providing adequate circulation space, bioretention areas, and green space; he noted that the project is barely achieving the green area ratio requirement of 0.4, which includes the large playing field, and the bioretention areas need to accommodate stormwater for the entire site.As a response to these constraints, the landscape character of the park would be strengthened by creating a dense tree canopy; he said that the shade trees in the center of the entry plaza would be planted fifteen feet apart, creating a continuous canopy.He observed that some people are advocating for a flexible gathering space, while others are questioning the extent of paving and are instead recommending more green space or larger playgrounds.The presented design for the entry plaza is intended to relate well to the building entrance and provide the primary flexible space for the park.He noted that the proposed spacing of the trees would allow for the placement of booths or tents for special events, and chairs could be placed to accommodate thirty to forty people; he acknowledged that the previous design, with the entry plaza lowered to the sidewalk grade, had amphitheater-type seating along both sides that could accommodate as many as 100 people, such as for a film showing.He summarized that the currently proposed size results from accommodating all of the park’s other program areas.
Mr. R.M. Cook noted the intent to align the height of the addition with the height of the existing carriage house, but he observed that the addition seems taller in the drawings, perhaps due to the perspective angle.Mr. Spory confirmed that the roof of the carriage house slopes down toward the north, resulting in the unusual perspective effect.Mr. Cook expressed support for the addition’s engagement with the rear of the carriage house, leaving the front as a focal point of the park; he described the addition as having a Miesian elegance, and he concluded that its design is sensitive to the historic building.He asked if the carriage house’s brick exterior was historically unpainted, noting the tradition of painted brick buildings in Virginia and Maryland that extends back for hundreds of years.Mr. Spory responded that the best images available are from the early 1950s, at the time of the site’s transition from private to public use.He said that the staff of the D.C. Historic Preservation Office recommended removing paint from brick structures of the same period as this carriage house, based on the expectation that it likely would not have been painted.Mr. Cook asked if the exposed brick is in good condition or would need to be protected; Mr. Spory said that it has been tested by a consultant, who has determined that the brick is quite strong but has excessive water penetration.A sealant would be applied to the exterior; he noted that the interior is being detailed to achieve a strong energy performance, which includes water protection.The exterior walls would also by stabilized with a grout injection system.
Mr. P. Cook observed that the park is situated between the more formal character of 16th Street on the east and the vibrant commercial corridor of 17th Street on the west, which serves as a neighborhood focus with many restaurants.He speculated that more pedestrians would be approaching the park from 17th Street, and he questioned why the park’s access ramp would be located to the east of the steps, farther away from the likely majority of visitors.He said that this configuration may be contrary to the goal of creating a welcoming character for the recreation center, which is generally well realized in the design.He asked if a ramp on the west has been considered, either instead of or in addition to the ramp on the east.Mr. Chambers responded that a ramp to the west of the steps, adjoining the south edge of the basketball court, would be difficult to implement because of the two existing trees in this area, which are the only ones on the site that would remain.He said that a three-foot-wide ramp could be configured in this area, but it would be very tight, requiring several turns or a steep slope, or with fewer trees along the street.Another issue is the broad organizing lines of the park:in addition to the main focus on the north–south centerline of the carriage house, a secondary consideration is the route from the park’s entrance on the south to the playing field on the north end of the site, which is the destination for the majority of the park’s users.The direct route between these areas is toward the east, beginning at the top of the eastern ramp and passing along the east side of the addition.He acknowledged that in the absence of the two trees, two ramps might have been proposed, or the single ramp would likely have been placed on the west.
Mr. P. Cook asked for clarification of the proposed chain-link fence around the basketball court, which was a concern in the ANC’s comments.He questioned the typical placement of fencing around the entire perimeter of basketball courts, and he asked if at least some portion of the fence could be removed, which could contribute to the flexible program spaces that were discussed earlier by allowing the basketball court to be used occasionally for other purposes.He suggested that removing the fence on the east would allow the basketball court to become more visually and physically integrated with the entry plaza, and the fence could also be removed on the other sides.Mr. Chambers responded that removal of the fence has been considered, and the most likely location would be on the east toward the entry plaza.He said that stray balls are generally not problematic if they go into adjacent play spaces, lawns, or pedestrian circulation areas, and the sense of continuous open space is beneficial; however, eliminating fencing on the south would be a safety concern because a stray ball could go onto P Street as a child chases it, and the fencing on the north would separate the basketball court from the park’s bicycle racks which could cause injury if a player chases a ball into this area.He said that another purpose for the fencing is to discourage people from congregating on the basketball court at night, potentially resulting in illegal activities.
Mr. McCrery recommended removing the fence from the middle part of the basketball court’s east side, opening the court to the path along the west side of the entry plaza.He observed that a fully fenced court tends to encourage its use by dedicated players but is less welcoming to casual users and the wider community.While the court’s principal purpose would be for basketball, he observed that it could sometimes become a programmed space for neighborhood events.He agreed with the reasons for installing fencing along the north and south edges of the court.
For the issue of the ramp placement along P Street, Mr. McCrery said that he is a strong advocate for trees, and the two missing street trees to the east and west should be replaced; however, losing the two existing trees between the basketball court and the sidewalk may be acceptable in order to address the larger concern of universal access to the park, which he said does not appear adequate in the proposed design.He expressed support for the uninterrupted width of the entrance stairs as proposed, agreeing that it would have a sense of openness and would relate well to the zones of the park.He suggested planting more perimeter trees around the playing field, with a commitment of contributing to the D.C. Government’s goal of achieving a forty-percent tree canopy.He supported the fifteen-foot spacing for the trees in the entry plaza, and he suggested planting a perimeter of urban street trees.
Mr. McCrery supported the comments of Mr. R.M. Cook on the building design, and he supported the facade detailing of Option 1, as preferred by the design team.However, he recommended using the lighter color that is shown in Option 3, which he said would relate better to the brickwork of the carriage house.For the interior, he questioned the introduction of several steps in the first-floor plan that are problematic for universal access.Mr. Spory responded that the first floor would step down to provide a more generous ceiling height in the addition’s rooms than is provided by the carriage house’s floor levels, which would result in headroom of less than eight feet; the level change also provides adequate room for the new mechanical equipment.He indicated the two-sided elevator alongside the short flight of stairs, which avoids the need for inserting a ramp that could be fifty feet long.Mr. McCrery acknowledged these concerns and said he supports the design.
Chair Tsien commented that the current environment for construction bidding is very difficult, and even the revised design may not bring the cost down to the project’s intended budget.While acknowledging the typically painful process of value engineering, she agreed that the revised design is actually an improvement, and she suggested bringing the review to a close.Secretary Luebke observed that the Commission members have expressed support for the revised concept, while raising a range of secondary issues that can be studied prior to the final design submission in consultation with the staff.Mr. McCrery offered a motion to approve the revised concept, with the Commission’s concerns to be addressed in the next submission; upon a second by Mr. P. Cook, the Commission adopted this action.
(Mr. Stroik departed the meeting during the discussion of the next agenda item.)
D. D.C. Department of General Services
CFA 21/OCT/21-3,Raymond Elementary School, 915 Spring Road, NW.Building modernization and additions.Concept.Secretary Luebke introduced the proposed modernization of the Raymond Elementary School, submitted by the D.C. Department of General Services on behalf of the D.C. Public Schools.The existing complex of buildings, located at the southern edge of the Petworth neighborhood, includes a three-story building constructed in two phases in the 1920s, a modern-style wing constructed to the west in the 1960s, and a recreation center constructed to the northwest in 2013 and abutting the north facade of the 1960s wing.The three construction phases define a courtyard to the northwest of the original school; surface parking is to the northeast, shared by the school and recreation center.The proposal is to demolish the 1960s wing and replace it with a larger wing that extends farther toward the edges of the angled lot.He asked project manager Patrick Moloney of the D.C. Department of General Services to begin the presentation.
Mr. Moloney said that the historic school building, approximately 39,000 square feet, would be fully modernized; the proposed new wing would add approximately 54,000 square feet.The project would increase the school’s capacity to 590 students, compared to the current enrollment of 448.The facilities would include a dedicated gymnasium, and the site would have enhanced opportunities for outdoor education and play.Additional goals include achieving the highest-level LEED rating for sustainability and WELL rating for health and comfort, with a net-zero energy consumption.He introduced Hiroshi Jacobs of Studios Architecture and landscape architect Sharon Bradley of Bradley Site Design to present the proposal.
Mr. Jacobs described the existing conditions in greater detail.The site is a block west of Georgia Avenue, where a Metro station is located; the context is primarily residential, with many single-family row houses.The school faces south toward Spring Road; he indicated the berm that extends along the school’s Spring Road frontage.He said that the courtyard, initially formed by the 1920s and 1960s construction and then further defined by the recreation center, provides a useful protected space for the school.The proposal to replace the 1960s wing would allow the courtyard to remain, minimize the impact on the historic part of the school, and maximize the use of the site’s buildable area.
Mr. Jacobs listed the project goals.The new wing should be deferential to the historic building, despite being larger.In keeping with community comments, the new entrance should be clearly located, and the school’s security and circulation should be improved; he indicated the existing entrance at the center of the historic building, with a narrow vestibule that is inadequate for security and no longer central to the school complex.The school’s interior should have a strong connection to the courtyard, particularly for the gymnasium and cafeteria.Finally, the school’s sustainable design should be evident as part of the educational mission.
Mr. Jacobs presented a diagram illustrating how the major ground-floor uses would be distributed on the site.The new main entrance would be located in the hyphen connecting the new wing on the west to the historic school on the east; this would serve as a central location with easy access to many program areas, and the adjacent administrative area would have a view of the courtyard for enhanced safety.The dedicated gymnasium, which the school does not currently have, would be placed at the north end of the new wing, adjoining the west side of the courtyard; the historic school’s cafeteria, also serving as an auditorium, would remain on the east side of the courtyard.
Mr. Jacobs said that the massing strategy is to maintain a three-story height along Spring Road on the south and 10th Street on the west, generally dropping down to lower heights around the courtyard.The new gymnasium would be a two-story volume, similar to the recreation center to the north; similarly, the existing cafeteria/auditorium wing is a two-story volume.He said that the courtyard would therefore have good daylight and would not have the sense of buildings looming around it.The massing strategy also includes breaking down the scale of the new wing so that its larger size does not compete with the historic school; the new wing is intended to appear contextual and deferential.He indicated the proposed south end of the new wing, which would be split into two volumes at different angles along Spring Road to break up the scale.A further massing gesture is to recess the connection between the new wing and the historic school, creating an arrival area at the new main entrance; the lobby walls would have extensive glass to provide a view from the entrance to the courtyard, and the facade above the entrance is designed with a special character to identify the importance of this location.Other walls of the addition that face the courtyard would also emphasize glass to strengthen the visual connection between the interior and the courtyard.The second-floor library would project above the courtyard, creating a close relationship as well as a sheltered outdoor space.
Mr. Jacobs said that in developing the architecture in more detail, the intent is for the new wing to relate to the historic school while being distinct from it; the relationship to the recreation center materials is also an important consideration.The new wing would be predominantly brick to be compatible with the historic school, but with slightly different detailing.The texture and detailing of the new brick would refer to the strong horizontal datum lines of the historic facade, carrying them into the new construction in a modern manner.Solar shading devices on the new wing would emphasize the design’s emphasis on low energy consumption while also providing additional texture for the facades.He presented the proposed elevations, indicating the distinctive two-story-high horizontal sunshade system above the south-facing entrance; it would project forward from the facade to provide some protection as people enter the building.
Mr. Jacobs concluded by presenting a series of perspective views, beginning with the approach along Spring Road from the east, which will be the direction of arrival for most people; he emphasized the sense of balance between the new wing and the historic building, which would continue to have a sense of presence along the street.He said that the rhythm of classroom windows along the new wing’s 10th Street facade is intended to refer to the window pattern of the historic school’s front facade along Spring Road.He indicated locations near the building and on the facades that would be suitable for public art, including the north facade of the new wing at the end of the rows of classrooms; this two-story-high expanse of blank brick would face the entrance to the recreation center on the north.He also indicated the proposed stepping down of height as the new wing meets the recreation center.
Ms. Bradley said that the site design emphasizes the new main entrance, while also respecting the symmetry of the historic school by marking its central doorway as a secondary entrance.To address the berm along Spring Road, a barrier-free path would rise through the slope to the west of the main entrance’s approach steps; the area would have dense plantings that could serve as a teaching tool.The courtyard, which is now mostly paved, would be broken up with more planted area that would provide a tree canopy.Areas within the courtyard and elsewhere on the site would have flexible play spaces with environmentally sensitive paving; play areas designed for different age groups; and multiple outdoor classroom spaces.Adjoining the parking lot on the northeast would be hardscape and garden areas, and the site could also have a work of sculpture as a focal point.
Ms. Tsien commented that the concept proposal has many sensitive design gestures, including the siting and the effort to break down the new wing’s mass.Observing that the illustrated precedents for the sunshade devices are made of wood, she said that in her experience wood facades and sun-shading devices are not durable; she suggested more thoughtfulness in this material selection.Instead of creating a facade feature above the entrance that would need to be replaced, she suggested consideration of a more solid facade that would have differentiated fenestration to call attention to the entrance.
Mr. Moore agreed in supporting the massing and many of the design ideas, and in questioning the long-term durability of the project.He observed that the existing wing to be demolished was built slightly more than fifty years ago; he suggested that the new wing, especially with its emphasis on sustainability, should be designed for longevity in order to conserve the long-term use of resources.He said that durable materials and details are particularly important for the entrance facade, which will be seen in relationship to the 1920s facade of the historic school.He expressed support for the site design’s rethinking of access to the existing school and the new wing.He observed from the photographs that the site’s existing fence and access points appear to be an afterthought, and he suggested that these components be carefully considered as part of the current project so that they do not disrupt the well-considered site design.Noting the young children at the school, he acknowledged that some sort of control would be needed for access to the site.
Responding to the concern with the sunshade devices above the main entrance, Mr. Jacobs he said that the design team currently expects that these would be metal, although wood precedents are shown in the presentation images.He noted that the horizontal configuration is optimal for shading these south-facing windows.Ms. Tsien said that regardless of such shading devices placed on buildings, people typically pull down their window shades to control sunlight.She recommended focusing more on the building’s mass as the best way of improving sustainability, with the mass serving to protect the interior from the sun exposure and heat.She reiterated her recommendation to consider a more substantial mass for the south facade, rather than rely on a design feature that would need repair; she said that revising the design approach would provide strong evidence for the project’s goal of sustainable design.
Mr. McCrery expressed agreement with Ms. Tsien’s guidance.He said that this proposal, like many other buildings, has a design approach that is difficult to understand and is not straightforward:the south facade is inappropriately designed with a glass skin that requires the addition of a screening device to provide protection from the sun.He joined in recommending reconsideration of the new wing’s south facade.
Mr. P. Cook offered support for many of the design moves, but he questioned the treatment of the west facade along 10th Street.He observed that the brickwork would combine the second- and third-floor windows in cascading two-level groups that would give a monumental character to this facade.He asked whether alternatives were studied that would not create the two-level groups.He also observed that the double-height solid facade area on the north, if it does not become the location for artwork, would be a very large blank element in the architectural composition.Mr. Jacobs responded that the intent for the west facade is to extend the historic school’s articulation and horizontal datum lines into the new addition, with a one-story expression of the windows at the ground level and a double-height grouping of windows above.He offered to consider a more regular arrangement of punched windows for this facade, although the resulting appearance may be too grid-like.He said that the blank wall on the north facade results from the internal need for some solid walls in the classrooms.He said that if artwork is not pursued for this location, the facade could be detailed with brick reveals to create blind windows, or perhaps using metal panels with a similar rhythm, in order to break down the scale of the facade.
Ms. Tsien commented that the grouping of windows on the west facade seems reasonably related to the organization of the historic school’s main facade and to the proportions of the windows.For the treatment of the north facade, she observed that one of the precedent images shows brick that is pulled forward or rotated from the rest of the facade, which could be a better solution than adding a different material such as metal panels.She said that an important characteristic of brick buildings is their sense of solidity, and the design could provide relief for the large blank wall while remaining within the language of brick.She added that the artwork could be banners mounted on top of the brick, regardless of whether the brick surface is textured or flat.She reiterated her appreciation for the successful effort to create a coherent composition among the multiple buildings, instead of having a patchy character that can result from a group of buildings that accumulate over time.She said that a consistent sense of materiality would contribute to the design’s success.
Secretary Luebke summarized the Commission’s general satisfaction with the project’s planning and design, but with more fundamental questions about the character and material at some parts of the new wing.He suggested that the Commission could take an action to approve the general concept, along with a request for a revised concept submission to address the concerns that were raised.Chair Tsien supported this response, noting that some of the concerns involve reconsideration of the school’s main entrance, which is an important part of the design.Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Dr. Edwards, the Commission adopted this action.
E. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—Shipstead-Luce Act
SL 22-025,600 5th Street, NW.Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority headquarters.Building renovation and additions for commercial office use.Revised concept.(Previous: SL 21-105, 20 May 2021)Secretary Luebke introduced the third submission for alterations to the current headquarters building of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), also known as the Jackson Graham building, facing Judiciary Square and the National Building Museum.He said that the existing eight-story building dates from the early 1970s, with a Brutalist-style exterior of glass and cast-in-place concrete.The proposal is to expand the building with three additional stories plus an occupiable penthouse, providing approximately 419,000 square feet of office space and 14,000 square feet of at-grade retail space; extensive floor slab alterations at the base would allow for aligning the retail spaces with the varying sidewalk grade around the site.Other additions and alterations would be made, and the entire building would be reclad.
Mr. Luebke summarized the Commission’s previous review in May 2021, which resulted in approval of the concept.He said that the Commission had requested more information about the entrance treatment and about the relationship of the northeast addition to the adjacent ground, including public space; the Commission also encouraged further study of the articulation of the penthouse level.The project team has requested today’s interim review to address these concerns prior to preparing a final design submission.He said that the presentation will address the penthouse, the building’s enclosure system details, exterior lighting, signage, landscape, and paving.He noted that material samples have been provided to the staff, and he offered to display them for the videoconference.He asked Jane Mahaffie of Stonebridge, one of the development companies for the project, to begin the presentation.
Ms. Mahaffie said that her firm has partnered with the Rockefeller Group for the redevelopment of this building into commercial office space.She noted that some of the building’s systems and configuration will require a continuing relationship with WMATA, such as for the Red Line rail tunnel that passes through the lowest level of the below-grade parking garage.She introduced architect Jon Pickard of Pickard Chilton to present the design.
Mr. Pickard said that a key project goal is to create a building that respects and enhances the dignity of Judiciary Square; the building is intended to be a part of its place.As part of the building’s contribution to the context, the east side of the site would serve as a civic space that complements the beautiful lawn on the west side of the National Building Museum.He presented a diagram of the key datums and setbacks of nearby buildings that would be incorporated into this project, allowing the building to have an appropriate and respectful role within Judiciary Square.The height of the primary volume would align with the cornice lines of the Government Accountability Office to the northeast and the National Building Museum to the east, forming a “grand room,” while the northeast pavilion would relate to the smaller scale of the historic buildings to the north.Additionally, the proposed east facade is organized around the centerline of the National Building Museum’s west facade across 5th Street, comparable to the facade organization of the FBI building across 4th Street from the museum’s east side, resulting in a pair of secondary volumes that “bookend” the museum.He said that these relationships would help the proposed building to frame a coherent, cohesive public space with a sense of appropriate scale.
Mr. Pickard said that today’s design is a refinement of the approved concept, which has not changed substantially; he presented the key massing gestures of the design.He noted the improved relationship on the south to F Street, which is emerging as an increasingly important and dynamic street in the downtown area; he indicated the sports arena and theater to the west along F Street.The existing building’s sunken walkway along F Street would be eliminated, and new retail spaces would front directly onto the F Street sidewalk.The proposed northeast pavilion, projecting toward the corner of 5th and G Streets, is intended to be a glass prism that lands in a lush landscape garden.The pavilion would be simply detailed; its ground floor, containing the fitness center for tenants, would have a transparent facade of butt-joint glazing, and the pavilion’s upper floors would have projecting blades to give a sense of scale.He emphasized that the building’s ground-floor uses would be active, adding vitality to the surrounding streets.He said that the plaza on the east would be a civic space available to the public, with outdoor dining, a water feature, and additional ginkgo trees to supplement the existing allée of ginkgoes along 5th Street.He presented a series of exterior renderings to illustrate the design proposals; he emphasized the vitality that this project would contribute to the Judiciary Square area, relating the site to the Penn Quarter neighborhood to the west and Chinatown to the north.He indicated the two entrances to the office elevators—on the east from the plaza and on the west from the 6th Street sidewalk.
Mr. Pickard said that the paving for the plaza and sidewalks has been studied carefully in relation to the context and to the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) standards.The context includes red brick sidewalks to the east, a special treatment of brick sidewalks for Chinatown to the north, and concrete pavers in other areas.He presented a site design that follows DDOT’s recommended paving materials:red brick for the 5th Street sidewalk, and concrete pavers for the plaza and the other sidewalks.He said that the design team would prefer to use standard red brick paving throughout the project, which he described as a more coherent urban design strategy.
Mr. Pickard presented the refinements of the proposed facades, which he said would be more richly detailed than those of conventional office buildings.The vertical mullions of the curtainwall would be organized on a five-foot module, which is a convenient dimension for commercial office tenants.The facades would be embellished with vertical panels of perforated aluminum, projecting more than ten inches and providing some solar protection; these would appear as opaque from the exterior but would have a veiled transparency when seen from the interior, giving the tenants filtered light and an awareness of the surrounding city.The facade color selections are still being studied; a leading color choice for the outer face of the aluminum, coincidentally called “Washington White,” is being tested under different lighting conditions, and the inner face would be a medium gray.Limestone would be used near the base of the building to enhance the pedestrian realm; a series of limestone panels behind the columns would emphasize the building’s structural spacing.The existing exposed concrete columns would be reinforced and clad in a high-quality architectural concrete.
Mr. Pickard described the proposed signage, which would include the building name in stainless steel letters above the entrance doors.Signage identifying the tenants would be developed as the building is leased; he said this signage would be quieter, probably with lettering affixed to the glass adjacent to the building’s entrance doors.He said the number of tenants is not yet known, but the extent of signage could be coordinated with the Commission as the project progresses.
Mr. Pickard said that the intent for the building’s exterior lighting is to make the public realm feel comfortable, inviting, and safe.Subdued downlights would provide general site lighting; linear LED uplights in selected locations would accentuate the architecture, especially at the soffits of recessed areas; and the tenants’ interior lighting would be visible from the exterior.He noted that the lighting would be dimmable, allowing for control of its intensity.
Mr. Pickard concluded by presenting the design team’s further study of the penthouse articulation at the top of the east facade, as previously requested by the Commission.The newly developed alternative adds a projecting volume at the center of the long penthouse facade, marking the center of the entire building in contrast to the facade expression on the lower floors that responds to the asymmetrical siting of the National Building Museum on its grounds across 5th Street.However, he said that the design team finds the added penthouse projection to be an unnecessary feature that draws unwanted attention to the building’s centerline; the design team continues to support the previous design, which would have a continuous plane along the length of the penthouse’s east facade.He described this preferred solution as elegant, quiet, and respectful, allowing the emphasis to be on the composition at the lower part of the building’s facade.
Mr. R.M. Cook asked to clarify his comment from the previous review concerning the penthouse articulation, which did not involve a projection at the center of the penthouse.He said his intended suggestion was to slightly recess the penthouse toward the northern end of the east facade, above the low projecting pavilion at the building’s northeast corner; the remainder of the penthouse would be centered in alignment with the National Building Museum centerline, as expressed in the east facade below the penthouse, in order to provide an elegant gesture for the penthouse to contribute to the design relationship with the museum.Secretary Luebke acknowledged that the staff may have misinterpreted the suggestion in the follow-up consultation with the design team.Mr. Cook further clarified that the penthouse level and the mechanical enclosure above it are already shown as stepping back at the south end of the building, and his suggestion is to mirror an articulation of these step-backs along the museum’s centerline as a way of refining the balance of the east facade.Mr. McCrery joined in describing this suggestion, which would replace the presented alternative of a projecting volume at the middle of the penthouse level.Mr. Cook observed that the northern part of the east facade is being treated in a different manner from the part of the facade related to the museum, and the penthouse articulation could correspond to this treatment.
Ms. Tsien commented that the suggested penthouse articulation would not be highly visible from the street level; the change may seem important on the elevation drawing, but it would not be meaningful to pedestrians.She instead expressed support for the design team’s preferred solution of a simple, continuous alignment for the penthouse.She also said that these gestures involving symmetry and centerlines would be architectural relationships that most people would not perceive.She summarized that the suggested modification may seem appropriate on the flat elevation drawing but would not contribute to the way people actually see the building.
Dr. Edwards agreed that the more important consideration is the view from the street in the vicinity of the building; she said that the penthouse articulation would not be seen.Ms. Tsien added that the street trees may further interfere with views of the building.Mr. R.M. Cook said that his concern with the penthouse articulation is not only to emphasize the museum’s centerline; a more important issue is to reinforce the concept of treating the northern part of the east facade in a different manner, most notably with the projecting wing at the base of the building.He said that recessing the penthouse above this part of the facade would be more respectful of the composition.
Ms. Tsien asked about the design implications of reusing the existing structural system.Mr. Pickard confirmed that the structure would remain, and any significant step-backs in the penthouse massing could require changes in the column alignments that would be very challenging to implement.He said that the design team’s other concern has been that articulations in the penthouse would make the building look fussy, while the goal that has emerged during the design and review process is to emphasize simplicity.He said that the penthouse articulation being discussed by the Commission could be achieved, but he expressed skepticism that it would result in a better building.He acknowledged the importance of relating the east facade to the National Building Museum’s massing, but he said that the carved-out articulation in the primary building volume below the penthouse should be successful in establishing this relationship.Ms. Tsien agreed that simplicity contributes to the strength of the design; she commented that the two large carved-out volumes on the east facade will be more successful against a continuous facade plane than against a stepped plane, which would result in a confused appearance.
Mr. P. Cook asked if a recessed articulation at the northern end of the penthouse would create a helpful transition to relate the building to the smaller scale of the historic buildings on the north side of G Street.Mr. Pickard responded that the northeast pavilion should be effective in providing a relationship to the buildings on the north, and no further gesture is needed; he emphasized the overall simplicity of the building’s mass, with the northeast pavilion as the added component that helps to define the plaza to its south and addresses the context to its north.
Ms. Mahaffie noted that the presentation includes a pair of perspective drawings of site relationships to illustrate the northeast pavilion within the context.Mr. Pickard said that one of these drawings looks west on G Street, showing that the northeast pavilion’s height is similar to the historic buildings across G Street.The other drawing looks north on 5th Street, demonstrating that the pavilion’s height would correspond to several buildings scattered along the 5th Street corridor, contributing to the sense of a formal rhythm.
Chair Tsien noted that the newer Commission members were not involved in the earlier concept approval, and she asked whether the penthouse treatment has already been accepted by the Commission; she said that she does not want the Commission to keep moving the goalposts for approval.Secretary Luebke responded that the concept was approved with a request for further study of the penthouse articulation; the specific suggestion was misunderstood and is not illustrated by the added alternative in today’s presentation.The Commission could decide to continue with its prior request for study, or to resolve the issue now; he also noted the technical constraints that have been described at today’s meeting.He recalled the broader context relationships that emerged during the staff consultation process.Judiciary Square is a very prominent feature of the L’Enfant Plan, and the Pension Building—now the National Building Museum—became a strong focus due to its siting, formal clarity, dark color, very articulated massing and roofline, and its green setting.The surrounding buildings are generally lighter in color, serving as a neutral frame that highlights the museum as a special place within the city.The design team for this project had initially proposed a darker building, but the staff recommended a lighter color to support this urban hierarchy.In a similar manner, the staff has supported the design approach of altering the existing box-like volume with some manipulations to relate to the museum and other parts of the context, while still being part of Judiciary Square’s overall frame.He said that the staff is satisfied with the proposed design, but the Commission could choose to request a further articulation toward the northern end of the penthouse.Mr. Pickard agreed with this summary, acknowledging that the initial design in the staff consultations was too aggressive; the goal has become simplicity and respectfulness for this background building.
Mr. R.M. Cook clarified that his suggested articulation—recessing the northern end of the penthouse along the east facade—could be accomplished with a subtle recess of only a few inches, avoiding the burden of costly structural changes.He said that such subtle gestures are routinely seen in other buildings, and the articulation would beautifully balance the building with the National Building Museum.He added that the window arrangement works well as currently designed.
Continuing her discussion of the pedestrian experience, Ms. Tsien asked about the proposed landscape treatment along 5th Street.Mr. Pickard said that the existing gingkoes would remain; some would be replaced with healthier trees.This allée would be reinforced with a new allée to the west, slightly within the property line, that would have as many or more gingkoes.He noted that the gingkoes are not particularly tall—perhaps 28 feet—and would not overpower the views toward the building; he contrasted these with the spectacularly large trees on the grounds of the National Building Museum.He added that the renderings are intended to convey an approximate scale for the trees.He also observed that the facades would typically be seen at glancing angles.
Chair Tsien asked about the procedure for resolving the varied opinions on whether to continue studying the articulation of the penthouse; Secretary Luebke suggested a vote on this issue.Chair Tsien suggested a motion to approve the design team’s preferred massing of the penthouse, which does not have any projections or recesses along the east facade.Mr. R.M. Cook offered an alternative motion to request a study of stepping back part of the penthouse, as he had requested in the previous meeting and has clarified in a sketch today; Mr. McCrery seconded this motion, with a request that the study include views from the north and northeast toward the building’s northeast corner.Chair Tsien called for a vote, and the motion for further study was not adopted.Mr. R. M. Cook then offered a motion to accept the design team’s preferred treatment of the penthouse; upon a second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission adopted this action.Chair Tsien expressed appreciation for the cooperation of the Commission members in bringing this issue to a conclusion.
Secretary Luebke suggested returning to the discussion of any remaining comments on the project.He clarified that the proposed paving plan is consistent with DDOT’s guidelines, which do not have the force of regulations; the D.C. officials have expressed a willingness to consider other solutions, and they would be interested in receiving the Commission’s advice on this issue.He also noted that nearly all of the adjacent blocks have brick sidewalks, notwithstanding DDOT’s guidelines that call for concrete paving on much of this site.The nearby exception where concrete pavers exist is at the D.C. firehouse across F Street to the south, which may be redeveloped in the future.He said that the staff favors the design team’s preference for paving all of the site with brick, while also observing that the lighter color of the concrete pavers would be more consistent with the building’s architecture; he summarized that the paving decision involves a choice of consistency with the building or with the wider urban context.He said that the Commission could provide a recommendation, which he would convey to D.C. officials, or could choose not to address this issue.
Mr. McCrery asked for further thoughts on the paving from Mr. Pickard, who has clearly considered the issue carefully.Mr. Pickard said he has concluded that the D.C. guidelines do not seem logical; the better logic would be to embrace the context, which is brick.He said that brick is also a nicer material than concrete for people to walk on.He acknowledged that the choice of paving would not be critical for the project’s success, but he said that the Commission’s support for brick would be helpful in negotiating this issue with DDOT officials.
Ms. Mahaffie clarified that using brick for all of the sidewalk paving would require a waiver from DDOT.She said that from the developer’s viewpoint, she supports the design team’s preference for brick on all sidewalks; she also noted that the application of the DDOT guidelines has been inconsistent in the nearby blocks, such as around the sports arena where the Chinatown brick pattern is used around the entire block despite the guidelines calling for different treatments.She said that these existing inconsistencies, along with the Commission’s support, could be sufficient to obtain a waiver from DDOT.She added that the DDOT guidance—brick along 5th Street, and concrete on the other sidewalks—would result in awkward transitions of materials at the northeast and southeast corners of the site, within a public space that would have activities such as outdoor dining.
Mr. Moore expressed support for using standard brick paving around the full perimeter of the site, as preferred by the design team; Mr. McCrery agreed.Chair Tsien asked for clarification of the difference between standard brick paving and the Chinatown brick.Ms. Mahaffie said that the difference is in the paving pattern:the standard D.C. pattern is a running bond, while the Chinatown pattern has paired bricks at alternating ninety-degree rotations that results in a checkerboard effect.Ms. Tsien asked if the bricks are the same color for the standard and Chinatown paving.Ms. Mahaffie responded that they are either identical or very similar; Mr. Pickard conveyed the confirmation from the project’s landscape architect that the bricks for the two paving types are identical, and the only difference is the pattern of laying them.
Chair Tsien asked about the procedure for notifying DDOT of the Commission’s recommendation on this issue.Secretary Luebke said that this could be part of the Commission’s action on the overall project, and the staff can convey the recommendation to the D.C. officials.He confirmed the apparent consensus among the Commission members to support using brick, and he said that a separate vote does not seem necessary for this issue.
Noting the staff’s general satisfaction with the responsiveness of the current submission, Mr. Luebke asked if the Commission has any additional concerns with the presented design.Ms. Tsien commented favorably on the proposed uplighting of the soffits, which she said would give a nice glow.She also expressed support for specifying dimmable lighting, which will allow for selecting the best lighting levels within the neighborhood context.
Mr. Luebke suggested a formal vote to confirm the Commission’s approval of the revised concept with the comments provided.Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. P. Cook, the Commission adopted this action.Mr. Luebke noted that today has been this project’s third presentation to the Commission; he asked if the next submission could be placed on the Shipstead-Luce Act Appendix if the staff is satisfied with the development of the design in accordance with the current concept.Chair Tsien supported relying on the staff to determine whether any further issues would require a presentation to the Commission.Mr. Luebke said that the staff will continue to consult with the project team; he added that the submitted material samples include a handsome limestone.
F. National Mall Coalition
CFA 21/OCT/21-4,National Mall Underground, National Mall between 9th and 12th Street tunnels.New underground parking structure with an intermodal transportation facility, stormwater reservoir, geothermal wells, and visitor services welcome center.Information presentation.Secretary Luebke introduced an information presentation to be given by the National Mall Coalition for the proposed National Mall Underground facility.He said that the Commission is commenting on this proposal by request of two members of Congress; no action from the Commission is required, but any guidance or commentary would be useful, and the staff will send a letter to these members of Congress to summarize the Commission’s comments.He asked the chair of the National Mall Coalition, Judy Scott Feldman, and the vice chair and project architect, Arthur Cotton Moore, to give the presentation.
Dr. Feldman said that the National Mall Coalition is a nonprofit organization dedicated to thoughtful, future-oriented planning for the National Mall, which she described as the stage for American democracy.The presentation will provide an overview of the proposal for a National Mall Underground and will answer questions that have been raised about its viability, effectiveness, and cost; she said the presentation also includes a design alternative that responds to criticism received from some federal agencies regarding the car parking component of the project.
Dr. Feldman said that the National Mall—one of the most iconic of American landscapes and public spaces—is threatened by devastating floods.She presented a simulated illustration of the 2006 flood that inundated Constitution Avenue, the National Archives building, and Smithsonian museum buildings.She described other major floods of the Mall in 1889, 1936, 1985, and 2019, which also caused extensive damage; in July 2019, the rainfall of a typical month fell in less than an hour, overwhelming storm sewers and sending water into the basements of the White House and the National Archives visitor area.She added that the walks around the Tidal Basin are flooded regularly.Now, over fourteen years after the 2006 flood, she said the threat has been confirmed by multiple studies by agencies such as DC Water, the National Park Service (NPS), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but there is still no final agreement on how to solve the flooding problem.Recent efforts by the Silver Jackets, an interagency flood response team of relevant federal and D.C. entities led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), have also not identified a single solution.She said that perhaps the biggest impediment to finding a solution is the plethora of entities involved in Mall governance; she emphasized that no one group has the responsibility or the funding to tackle the problem of flooding.
Dr. Feldman said that this presentation will show what the National Coalition for the Mall believes is an important contribution to solving the stormwater flooding crisis:the National Mall Underground.She said that architect Arthur Cotton Moore has been working on this design since 2013, and the Coalition has refined it through dozens of meetings with civic groups and D.C. and federal agencies.
Dr. Feldman said the National Mall Underground is envisioned as a multipurpose stormwater reservoir, Mall visitor center, tour bus parking garage, and geothermal energy facility.Its basic form, a large underground box designed to contain stormwater, could be constructed beneath three of the Mall’s lawn panels, extending from 9th to 12th Streets between the Smithsonian Castle and the National Museum of Natural History.The Underground would be capable of collecting 28 to 30 million gallons of stormwater, which was the volume of the 2006 flood.She said that when it is not needed for the collection of stormwater, the lower reservoir level would be a parking garage for tour buses; the upper level, which would never be used to hold stormwater, would contain parking for cars and buses, along with rest facilities for bus drivers and a Mall welcome center with public restrooms and food service.Vehicles could enter the Underground by means of the existing ramp leading north from Independence Avenue to the 12th Street tunnel, or by new ramps from the 9th Street tunnel and the area between the Arts & Industries Building and the Hirshhorn Museum.At one end of the Underground’s upper level, a small cistern would be located for the collection of rainwater; a cistern at the other end could hold groundwater pumped from beneath Mall-area buildings, water that could be used to irrigate lawns, trees, and gardens.She said that at the suggestion of Dan Tangherlini, administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA) at the time, geothermal wells have been added to the concept proposal; located beneath the underground structure, these could provide 3,000 tons of cooling per hour, enough clean energy to power several museums and other public buildings.
Dr. Feldman said that the cost for the Underground is estimated to range between $260 and $320 million dollars.She noted that the idea for a stormwater reservoir beneath the Mall did not originate with the Coalition but was one of four solutions found viable in the Federal Triangle Stormwater Drainage Study, a collaborative report prepared in 2011 by fourteen federal and D.C. agencies after the 2006 flood.This report found the estimated cost of $400 million for a reservoir to be prohibitive; the Coalition therefore proposes that the empty reservoir box beneath the Mall, which would be unused most of the time, could be turned into an active, visitor-friendly facility that would generate revenue year-round.
Dr. Feldman said that in 2017, the D.C. Council unanimously passed a resolution asking the USACE to study the feasibility of this idea.The resulting report, issued in September 2018, found that “flood risk from a storm of the intensity that flooded the Federal Triangle area in 2006 could be reduced significantly by implementation of an underground reservoir, and the potential for revenue from parking fees and water credits may offer self-financing opportunities that will attract a public-private partnership.”Also in September 2018, she and Mr. Moore were invited to present the concept to members of the Silver Jackets team, representing D.C. and federal agencies and local universities.She said there is clearly interest in the idea among the Mall stakeholders, but the NPS is opposed because this concept does not conform to its 2010 National Mall plan.
Dr. Feldman addressed the question of whether there are alternative solutions for the flooding problem that do not require digging up the Mall.She said that Washington is vulnerable to three different types of flooding:riverine, coastal or tidal, and interior.Riverine flooding occurs during and after heavy rains when the Potomac River overflows its banks, as in 1889 and several times in the 20th century.Coastal or tidal flooding happens when tides and storm surges push the water of the Potomac River northward; the frequent flooding of the walks around the Jefferson Memorial is the result of coastal flooding.The third type, interior flooding, occurs when heavy rains overwhelm storm drains, inundating streets and buildings; it is not related tothe river.The flood of 2006 was an interior flood that damaged the National Archives visitor center, closed museums and government buildings, and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage.Since 2006, stopgap measures have been used to protect underground Metro stations, such as piling sandbags around ventilation structures.While some actions are being taken to address riverine and tidal flooding, none of these actions will protect the Mall from interior flooding.The 2019 Silver Jackets report on interior flooding in the Mall area concluded that of all the potential solutions studied, only two are viable.One is to build a new pumping station to pump floodwaters into the Tidal Basin.However, she said the report found that if the city gets rain heavy enough to cause both interior and riverine flooding, the only viable solution for storing water would be beneath the Mall.
Dr. Feldman acknowledged that construction of the Underground would cause inconvenience, closing off the three-block area between 9th and 12th Streets for about two years.However, she observed that the NPS’s grass renewal project closed large areas of the Mall from 2014 to 2016, and visitors seemed to adapt.She said the Coalition members believe that visitors will also forgive the short-term inconvenience necessary for construction of the Underground once they experience its benefits; she added that the project would include restoration of the Mall turf.
Dr. Feldman said that the Coalition also maintains that the Underground would not increase traffic congestion on downtown streets; she noted that tourist destinations around the world, including the Washington National Cathedral, use underground parking to get cars and buses off the streets while supporting tourism.She said that for years D.C. and federal agencies have been searching for ways to get idling buses off the streets.In addition to causing traffic congestion, buses also pose a public health problem; she cited a 2019 report by the American Lung Association, “State of the Air,” that gave the District of Columbia a grade of “F” for ozone levels, which are associated with high rates of asthma.She said the Underground would provide an off-street location for buses to park with their engines off.She referred to a 2015 study of bus parking conducted by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which concluded that the Mall Underground would provide the most dramatic improvement to this problem.In addition, the 2020 design charrette held by the Silver Jackets endorsed the underground cistern concept, although it rejected ancillary uses such as parking.She said the Coalition takes criticism of the Underground’s car parking component seriously; in response to concerns, the Coalition has developed an alternative that would omit car parking in favor of two levels of bus parking.
Dr. Feldman said the Coalition has always believed that revenue generated by the Underground facility’s various components could provide opportunities for creative financing.In 2018, the Coalition commissioned a financial consultant with strong experience in government projects to develop a financing plan.The consultant concluded that the Mall Underground project could achieve a stormwater mitigation solution for federal and D.C. stakeholders that would provide significant savings in comparison to other identified alternatives.She said the financing plan would also make use of existing federal contracting programs—including stormwater credits, clean energy credits, the sale of irrigation water, and parking revenue—to pay for itself over time, avoiding the need for a substantial upfront appropriation.
Dr. Feldman said that the Mall is the result of two visionary plans, the L’Enfant Plan of 1792 and the McMillan Plan of 1901–02.Unfortunately, an unforeseen but disastrous legacy of these plans is flooding.The L’Enfant Plan situated the Mall along two waterways, the Potomac River and Tiber Creek.By the time of the McMillan Commission in 1901, Tiber Creek in this area had been paved over to create Constitution Avenue, and the USACE had created hundreds of acres of new land at the Mall’s west end by dredging material from the river, which moved the river’s shoreline one mile west.As a result of the McMillan Plan, the Mall was expanded into this area, and the Lincoln Memorial was built as the Mall’s termination; the Mall was also extended south to a new Tidal Basin, which eventually became the site of the Jefferson Memorial.She said the result of this history is that half the Mall is located in what used to be tidal mud flats and marshes of the Potomac River, and the Federal Triangle sits along the former Tiber Creek.While the L’Enfant and McMillan Plans tried to tame nature, she said that nature is now roaring back, and the urgency to act is real:a 2018 NPS report projected that the effects of rising sea levels and storm surges on national parks suggest a Category 3 hurricane in 2050 would flood almost the entire Mall, except for a five-block section that includes the site proposed for the National Mall Underground.
Dr. Feldman said the Mall Underground will provide something that stewards of the Mall have wanted but have not been able to agree on:a single, comprehensive solution for the flooding that also addresses the urgent need for clean, sustainable energy.She noted the current proposal by the Smithsonian Institution to upgrade the Castle and the Arts & Industries Building by constructing a new heating and cooling plant and a stormwater cistern.She said the Commission of Fine Arts will likely be asked to approve other piecemeal solutions for clean energy and flooding problems by the various stewards of the Mall, such as the GSA, the National Gallery of Art, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture; the Underground would allow these organizations to eliminate stormwater storage and geothermal energy production from their plans, saving taxpayer money and reducing the need for years of construction projects on the Mall.
Dr. Feldman said the last time the United States saw a truly comprehensive plan for the National Mall was 120 years ago.Now, sites are again needed for new museums and memorials, including proposals for an expanded narrative of American history.However, she emphasized that the U.S. also needs to rise above thinking that is based on jurisdictions and duplicative building-by-building infrastructure improvements; with the plan for the National Mall Underground, the Coalition is offering innovative, all-inclusive thinking about the future of the Mall.On behalf of the Coalition, she urged the Commission members to take up their role as advisors to the President and Congress by initiating a new, comprehensive, visionary plan for the entire Mall in the 21st century.She said that such a plan can create an optimistic, future-oriented and lasting legacy for the United States as it celebrates in 2026 the 250th anniversary of its founding.
Chair Tsien asked Secretary Luebke to summarize the two comment letters that the Commission has received.Mr. Luebke said that these statements were submitted by the two stakeholders that would be most affected by the Underground, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Park Service—among the parties that have also been asked by the members of Congress to comment on the Mall Underground proposal.
Mr. Luebke said that the Smithsonian’s letter is from Douglas Hall, the acting under secretary for administration.Mr. Hall writes that although the Smithsonian appreciates the effort to address such issues as stormwater management, parking, and the generation of geothermal energy, it does not find that this project would provide the correct solutions for these problems; on the contrary, the project would create new challenges for the Smithsonian and its neighboring institutions on the Mall.The project would conflict with existing and planned infrastructure around the Smithsonian facilities and reduce the existing garden space.Creation of the underground parking facility would increase expectations of parking availability, encouraging more people to drive, while still failing to accommodate the existing demand for parking.If theunderground lot is full, which is likely to happen in peak season, the result would be more congestion, frustrated visitors, and illegal parking.The Smithsonian maintains that reducing the demand for Mall parking is a better long-term solution.
Mr. Luebke said that Mr. Hall’s letter also conveys the opinion of the Smithsonian that evacuating parked vehicles from an underground garage in the event of a flash flood is unrealistic and dangerous, because the warning time for flash floods is not sufficient to contact drivers who would be scattered throughout the Mall or to get hundreds of vehicles out of the garage; these consequences could be very costly.Mr. Hall writes that the Smithsonian also has significant security concerns about locating parking under such a highly symbolic location as the Mall.An underground parking structure would require screening and controlled entry; slow entry into the garage would cause delays, congestion, and air pollution.In addition, while the Smithsonian appreciates the idea of a geothermal energy plant, it would fall short of the energy needs for the Mall, and its benefits would be offset by the increase in carbon dioxide emissions generated by the larger number of vehicles.The letter states that the proposal for a centralized visitor welcome center conflicts with plans already underway for the Smithsonian Castle and the Arts & Industries Building.Also noted is the potential conflict between this project and the desire of Congress to have the proposed new National Museum of the American Latino and the National Women’s History Museum built on or close to the Mall.He said that since the site selection process for these museums is just beginning, the Smithsonian is not yet able to analyze their potential impacts, but several of the suggested sites are above or adjacent to the site of the proposed Underground.The letter concludes that, in light of these issues, it is the opinion of the Smithsonian Institution that this does not seem like an ideal time to begin an ambitious infrastructure project underneath the Mall.
Mr. Luebke summarized the second letter, submitted by Peter May, the associate regional director for lands and planning of the NPS.Mr. May writes that in November 2016, the NPS informed the Coalition that the NPS does not support an underground parking structure beneath the Mall.He said the NPS has considered the feasibility, practicality, and desirability of this idea several times; in 2005, it rejected a similar proposal because of the array of permanent impacts on the Mall landscape, traffic congestion, and use of the Metro system.Mr. May comments that there does not appear to be anything in the current proposal that would alter this position.Since the 2006 flood, several efforts have been put forward to counter future flooding, including the collaboration among fourteen D.C. and federal agencies to produce the 2011 Federal Triangle Stormwater Drainage Study, in which a similar plan for rainwater storage beneath the Mall was among ten potential actions considered.While that study did not establish a preferred solution, he writes that the under-Mall storage was considered less effective and more expensive to construct and operate than a pumping station beneath the Mall.He said that in 2018 the USACE prepared a technical review of the Coalition’s proposal, which concluded that because of its conceptual nature it was not clear whether the project is feasible; the review suggested twelve recommendations for further study, including operational risk analysis to ensure people in vehicles could be safely evacuated in a flash flood.Mr. May writes that the 2020 multi-agency design charrette sponsored by the D.C. Silver Jackets team reviewed five system-wide solutions to flood risk in and around the city, including this proposal, for their effectiveness and potential impact on historic and cultural resources; the pumping station concept was the preferred solution.
Mr. Luebke said that Mr. May’s letter describes the potential impact of the Mall Underground proposal on the Mall landscape.The salient issue would be that this structure would necessarily include numerous above-ground ventilation elements, stairwells, elevators, and vehicular ramps, all affecting the rows of elm trees that line the Mall and intruding on the landscape and viewshed of the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol.In addition, exhaust fumes from the garage, as well as the lowering of the water table by excavation, would be detrimental to the health of the Mall elms.The NPS letter cites its recent investment of $40 million on improvements to the Mall.
Mr. May’s letter continues that the development of a large parking structure should be consistent with local, regional, and federal transportation policies that encourage alternative transportation methods to reduce congestion, noise, and air pollution.Regarding bus parking, the NPS estimates that approximately one-third of visitors to the Mall travel by tour bus, which equates to approximately 1,200 buses per day during peak season.He notes that tour bus drivers want low-cost and easy access to parking that allows them a place to wait for short periods before picking up passengers and moving on; the proposal for the Underground would place 580 tightly packed parking spaces on two levels, which would not meet the needs of tour buses and would cause additional congestion.
According to the NPS letter, the proposal for an underground visitor center to orient and educate visitors to the Mall has been studied and dismissed by the NPS, which emphasizes the value of authentic rather than virtual experiences for visitors; this was also the position of the NPS in the 1986 Commemorative Works Act and the 2003 Commemorative Works Clarification and Revision Act, which explicitly prohibited the construction of any visitor center within the Reserve area, which includes the Mall.The security issues posed by high daily visitation, as well as special events that draw huge crowds, would likely mean that vehicles—especially buses—would need to be screened before entering the underground parking.Queuing for security would result in significant congestion at the entrances proposed at the 9th and 12th Street tunnels and at any potential above-grade ramp during large events such as the Fourth of July celebration.At these times, the Underground would have to be closed to vehicles, or parking would have to be greatly limited, to ensure the safety of visitors, and several museums already have closed their large underground parking areas, mostly because of security concerns.In the letter, Mr. May concludes that the prohibition of visitor centers in the 2003 Act suggests that the NPS does not have the authority to allow construction and operation of the proposed underground project by an outside party, as has been described in the proposal, and it is likely that Congress would need to enact legislation for the proposal to move forward.
Secretary Luebke concluded his summary of the submitted statements by noting that many other affected groups have not yet weighed in, including the National Gallery of Art, the Department of Agriculture, the GSA, and the D.C. Government.
Arthur Cotton Moore then responded to the written testimony by addressing questions about the architectural and engineering features of the Underground.Noting that the Commission of Fine Arts is not involved in the technicalities of flood control, he explained that the proposed size of the underground reservoir could handle the water from a 200-year flood, a flooding event that would knock out the entire government.He said this reservoir is actually the only solution available; pumping floodwater into the Tidal Basin would simply kill all the cherry trees there.He observed that the main problem with tour buses is the exhaust they emit.Tour buses now park anywhere, and the drivers leave their engines running, with a resulting increase in asthma throughout the city and increased air pollution on the Mall.By taking tour buses off the Mall, the proposed Mall Underground would solve these problems.He added that because of the insatiable desire for museums and memorials, the Mall has become very crowded.For these reasons, he said, the Commission needs to be forward-thinking on what should be done with the Mall, and the Coalition believes what ought to be done is what the McMillan Commission did in 1902 when it extended the Mall to accommodate the desire for new construction.He emphasized the need for long-range thinking, not the carping that was conveyed in the submitted testimony.
Chair Tsien invited questions and comments from the Commission members.Mr. R.M. Cook asked why the Commission has not also received responses from the National Gallery of Art and the agencies housed in the Federal Triangle buildings near the historic Tiber Creek alignment, instead hearing only from the Smithsonian, whose museums are located on higher ground.Mr. Luebke responded that the request to the affected agencies and stakeholders is to report to Congress, with a due date in mid-November.When the Commission scheduled the hearing of this presentation at its October meeting, he informed these agencies and invited them to provide testimony; some were able to provide testimony in time for today’s meeting, but others were not.
Mr. R.M. Cook asked which agencies support this proposal.Dr. Feldman responded that the Coalition has been working on the project since 2013, and the two letters that were summarized do not say anything the Coalition has not confronted repeatedly.Some years ago, she said that several D.C. agencies, including the D.C. Department of Transportation, DC Water, and the D.C. Department of Environment and Energy, had joined the Coalition in meetings at the White House, with members of Congress, and with other agencies, and at that time there were great hopes that this project could solve some of these problems.She said that with political changes come changes in employees and also sometimes in opinions, but the Coalition decided to keep on with this project, knowing that at certain levels, including at the Smithsonian and federal agencies, great interest remained that a project like this could work.She said the Coalition decided to approach Congress, because ultimately Congress can say this is a project that benefits everybody.Over the past eight years, the Coalition has continued to address negative responses by working with different agencies and trying to amend the design.She said that opportunities for the Coalition to make presentations to government agencies such as the Commission are rare, because the Coalition is just a volunteer non-profit group of concerned people, not a government entity.She emphasized that no government agency will say it is in favor of this idea, which is why the Coalition is asking the Commission to tell Congress and the President to support the project.She said the Coalition believes that the Mall Underground project may seem more viable if it gains Congressional support, at least for review, and if the proposed financing also looks viable, there would be the opportunity for historic preservation and environmental protection review.
Mr. R.M. Cook commented that both he and Mr. McCrery were involved twenty years ago with the Millennium Gate project at Barney Circle, which tried to address the problem of accommodating idling tour buses.The issue of buses and the air pollution they create is still not resolved, and being able to address it so close to the Mall attractions would be extraordinary.He said he does not see that there is any other choice.Noting that this part of Washington is barely above sea level, he said he welcomed Mr. A.C. Moore’s remarks about the problem of flooding because there is no other place to address the issue of floodwater in the Mall area.He said that more agencies should respond to the Commission on whether they would support this project.Mr. Luebke clarified that the Congressional request is for agencies to respond with a deadline in mid-November; the two letters the Commission received were provided as comments for today’s meeting.
Mr. McCrery commented that the situation is complex.He suggested that the local representative in Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, might persuade the D.C. Government to enforce existing laws concerning bus parking in residential neighborhoods and the continuous running of bus engines.He said there are designated places where tour buses can park legally, but they often not used; enforcement of the law could solve a lot of these problems without constructing more parking.He noted the conclusion of some reviewers that a pumping station will solve the flooding problem, while the Coalition says it won’t—and one of these two statements must be correct.He commented that if an underground reservoir is the right solution, it deserves to be explored as a stand-alone use, not complicated by the question of bus parking, and also not combined with an underground visitor center.He said that Washington has too much underground space already, especially for the monumental experiences; he expressed relief that the proposal to build a new below-ground entrance to the Washington Monument was abandoned.He added that the idea that a public space needs to be interpreted for the public is absurd.
Mr. McCrery observed that careful consideration of the objections put forward by other agencies, such as the Smithsonian and the NPS, suggests their primary objection is to the underground parking, whereas the presenters today are basing their proposal on flood mitigation; he said that the proposal’s parking component may therefore be of secondary importance.He suggested that a middle ground might be found by agreeing that an underground reservoir without any associated parking could be useful and appropriate.He said the proposal for a geothermal well field may be viable, but limiting the location of the well field to the area beneath the proposed underground reservoir seems short-sighted.He suggested that the entire surface of the Mall, aside from areas above tunnels, could be used to provide a much larger field of geothermal wells than shown in this presentation.He also suggested that it would be antithetical to the idea of the Mall as defined by the McMillan Commission to put this public space to such utilitarian use.He agreed with the concerns about adding ramps and vertical chases to the Mall landscape, observing that the presentation had not explained how air ventilation and other mechanical systems would be handled, all of which would require the undesirable addition of many protrusions into the landscape.
Mr. J.G. Moore expressed appreciation for the work of Dr. Feldman and Mr. A.C. Moore as civic advocates.He noted the importance of dialogue about the shared public realm and its infrastructure, and he praised them for taking on the important issue of flood mitigation, which is connected to problems of climate change and other difficult, long-term challenges.He said he also was pleased to hear summaries of the letters received by the Commission, to learn about the work undertaken by the Silver Jackets, and to know there are many people taking these issues seriously and working on solutions.He commented that flood mitigation is an especially widespread issue.While the Mall is an exceptionally important national landscape, it is connected to larger areas at the city and regional level that present a more appropriate scale for the kind of thinking and interaction required to address the challenge of flooding.He said he understands this proposal’s focus on the recent flooding of the Mall, which illustrates the need for a significant, thoughtful response, but work is needed on a broader scale to look at other sites and think in a more systematic way about where and how flood mitigation resources can be allocated most effectively.He noted that he has worked on the challenges that New York City has been dealing with since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.He emphasized the importance of advancing this conversation to Congress and all the different stakeholders, as well as thinking in a more comprehensive regional way, and he expressed the hope that the conversation about the issue facing the Mall can lead to a broader, more collaborative approach to addressing both flood mitigation and our impending climate concerns.
Mr. A.C. Moore responded that the National Mall Underground would be located very close to where flooding would occur on Constitution Avenue; such flooding would inundate the Federal Triangle and the many federal headquarters buildings located there, and the Mall is therefore a logical site for the proposed underground reservoir.Mr. R.M. Cook asked if any of the 2006 floodwater had entered the basement floors of the National Archives or the National Gallery.Mr. A.C. Moore responded that the National Archives was actually flooded, and it has now taken precautions by building a wall around the basement level of the building.He noted the enormous expense of requiring each agency to build such walls, and this solution would also simply push the floodwater up to Pennsylvania Avenue.Mr. R.M. Cook asked if the basement vault for the Constitution was compromised in the 2006 flood; Dr. Feldman said that she believes it was.She added that the National Capital Planning Commission issued several reports immediately after the flood, which included illustrations of chairs floating in the flooded National Archives visitor center and the flooded 12th Street vehicular tunnel.
Dr. Feldman agreed that there are issues and questions about the Mall Underground proposal.She said it would be wonderful to have everyone working together toward a comprehensive solution, but she reiterated that the flood had occurred fifteen years ago.The Coalition has simply tried to take the recommendations of the government agencies and put them together into a proposal for a single construction project that would solve multiple problems and would also have the potential for creative financing.She said that since the Coalition’s founding in 2000, it has tried to show how different planning can happen when, instead of a piecemeal approach, there is a large plan that says what story we want to tell on the Mall and how we can improve energy use with one big comprehensive project instead of fifteen different projects.She said the Coalition has learned through the years that government agencies may want to solve such problems, but they are not able to do so because no one is in charge, except for Congress and the president.She said this is why the Coalition has come to the Commission of Fine Arts, asking it to take a leadership role by requesting a little more investigation to see whether this proposal is worthwhile or not.
Mr. McCrery reiterated that he thinks the proposal is probably worth more investigation, and he complimented Dr. Feldman on her many years of leadership on issues facing the National Mall.He suggested there may be room for compromise with the proposal—such as on the need for all the underground parking, which will face a lot of objections from the public.Dr. Feldman said there absolutely is room for compromise on parking; Mr. McCrery said that could help her cause with Congress.
Dr. Feldman said the Coalition has tried to come up with an idea that does everything.She observed that the purpose of the environmental and historic preservation review processes is public consultation about alternatives, which the Coalition is willing to do; however, she reiterated that the car and bus parking would help pay for this facility.If Congress were willing to provide millions of dollars in infrastructure money so that it was not necessary to fund the Underground through parking, the Coalition could eliminate this component; but when the Coalition first went to consult with Congressional offices, it was told that Congress members loved the idea of parking because their constituents could never find anywhere to park in the city.She concluded that addressing this issue is a matter of giving everybody a voice, and then finding compromise.Mr. R.M. Cook thanked her and said it would be helpful to include this willingness to compromise on parking in the Commission’s letter to the members of Congress.
Chair Tsien acknowledged that the Coalition has undertaken a long and very positive crusade.She expressed agreement with Mr. McCrery’s suggestion to narrow the focus of the proposal to water retention.While understanding the desire to offset the cost, she observed that many of the responses cite numerous problems with the parking feature.She noted that she and also Mr. P. Cook and Mr. A.C. Moore have worked on embassy projects, which have such serious and complex security concerns that she finds it hard to imagine that access to underground public parking beneath the Mall could be easily provided.However, she said it seems clear that flooding is a significant problem, and she favors a proposal focused specifically on managing stormwater.She noted that no action is required for an information presentation.Secretary Luebke said the request from the members of Congress was for the Commission to hear the presentation and provide comments, which it has done; he confirmed that the proposal is not developed as an actual concept submission requiring any action, but the staff will summarize the Commission’s comments in a letter.He summarized that the Commission supports certain ideas such as the management of stormwater, with the suggestion for further study, and is less supportive about other ideas such as parking; the Commission also acknowledges the security issues and the likely impact on the Mall landscape.He added that the comments do not have to be conclusive.
Mr. McCrery confirmed that the Secretary will prepare a draft letter summarizing these comments to Congress; Chair Tsien concurred.On hearing no further comment, Secretary Luebke said the letter would be circulated for the Commission’s review and would be sent out in the coming week.Dr. Feldman thanked the Commission for the opportunity to present the Coalition’s proposal.The discussion concluded without a formal action.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 2:19 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA