The meeting was convened by videoconference at 9:01 a.m.
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
Mary Catherine Bogard
A. Approval of the minutes of the 20 January meeting. Secretary Luebke reported that the minutes of the January meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. R.M. Cook, 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: 17 March, 21 April, and 19 May 2022. He noted that the video conference format is likely to continue for the near future, and government-wide guidance may be forthcoming for the return to in-person meetings.
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. Fox reported that no changes have been made to the draft consent calendar, which has seven projects. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. Stroik, the Commission approved the Government Submissions Consent Calendar. Secretary Luebke noted that there are relatively few projects on the consent calendar this month, but that these smaller submissions tend to become more numerous in the summer months.
Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler said that one case listed on the draft appendix has been removed and is being held open for consideration in a future month (case number SL 22-061). The recommendations for three projects have been changed to be favorable based on revisions to the proposals (SL 22-055, 22-059, and 22-062). Other revisions are minor wording changes and the notation of dates for the receipt of supplemental materials. She said the recommendations for seven 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.
Mr. Luebke noted that the Shipstead-Luce Act specifies a short timeframe for providing the Commission’s recommendations to the D.C. Government, and the cases are typically received only two weeks prior to the Commission meeting. This tight schedule often results in cases that have not yet been resolved by the day of the Commission meeting.
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Ms. Bogard reported that no changes have been made to the draft appendix, which has 29 projects. Upon a motion by Mr. P. Cook with second by Mr. Moore, the Commission approved the Old Georgetown Act Appendix.
B. Smithsonian Institution
CFA 17/FEB/22-1, Smithsonian Institution Building and the Arts & Industries Building, 1000 and 900 Jefferson Drive, SW. Revitalization of the Historic Core – building and landscape renovation and modernization. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 17/JUN/21-2) Secretary Luebke introduced the revised concept proposal for revitalizing the historic core of the Smithsonian Institution’s South Mall Campus, including the Smithsonian Institution Building (known as the Castle) and the Arts and Industries Building (AIB), along with adjacent landscape spaces. He said the submission includes options for paving and security elements, along with studies of the visual impact of an installation of cooling towers that would be located across the Mall at 12th Street and Madison Drive, NW. He added that the project is undergoing a concurrent federal regulatory process with historic preservation review, involving many other stakeholders. He asked Ann Trowbridge, associate director for planning at the Smithsonian Institution, to begin the presentation.
Ms. Trowbridge said that responding to the Commission’s prior comments has helped the project team move toward the goal of opening as much of these buildings to the public as possible. She said the initial assessment of effects on historic resources has been completed, and the project team will continue consulting with stakeholders to address adverse effects. She introduced architect Matt Chalifoux of EYP/Loring and landscape architect Faye Harwell of Rhodeside & Harwell to present the revised concept design.
Mr. Chalifoux said that the construction of a below-ground Central Utility Plant (CUP) is a key part of rehabilitating the two landmark structures—the oldest of the Smithsonian buildings—while at the same time treating them with the care they deserve and making them sustainable. The construction of the CUP and of the associated cooling towers across the Mall will make available the space in the buildings that is currently used for mechanical and back-of-house activities, almost tripling the amount of public space available in these two buildings. He presented a diagram illustrating the proposed distribution of public and non-public space in the Castle.
Mr. Chalifoux said that the project team is striving to improve the Castle’s structural and energy performance, while avoiding significant impacts on the building’s appearance. In some areas, roof profiles would remain unchanged even though the roof itself will be replaced; in other areas, alterations would be necessary but the design of the new elements is intended to minimize their visual impact. The two largest modifications would be on the roof over the main hall at the center of the Castle, and the roof over the east wing where the administrative offices are located. The replacement of the main hall roof would improve its structural and thermal performance while raising its profile by only 2.25 inches, which would generally not be perceivable to pedestrians. At the east wing, the modifications to the roof are also being designed to create little visual change while still achieving significant improvements to building performance.
Mr. Chalifoux described the visual impact of changes to the Castle’s mechanical systems. Several of the rooftop’s existing louvered mechanical penthouses would be enlarged, but these are generally in the least visible locations, including the penthouses behind the north and south towers; the new penthouses would be clad in a copper material to resemble the existing penthouses. In the east wing, the relocation of the elevator has been revised to result in a new mechanical penthouse on the roof’s south side; this revised location allows more of the elevator overrun to be within the attic so that the remaining protruding volume resembles a small dormer, and the existing large elevator penthouse on the east would be removed, reclaiming the historic roof profile.
Mr. Chalifoux said that a main focus of discussion in the previous review was the proposed new egress walkway from the east wing leading across the east range roof to the center structure of the Castle, proposed in order to allow for occupancy of the east wing’s fourth floor. The revised design proposes an open walkway and metal guardrail system, which would provide a code-compliant egress route leading to an egress stair within the center structure of the Castle; the existing windows at each end of this route would be modified to serve as doors. He noted that this solution would retain all the historic chimney elements on the east wing’s roof while removing the existing louvered penthouse along the center ridge of the east range’s roof, dating from the 1970s. He said the new guardrails would be placed at approximately the height of this penthouse’s eave line. Although the new walkway would be visible to people standing on the Mall, it would become increasingly less visible as they approach the building, and the open metal design for the railing would help minimize its visual impact, keeping the focus on the building’s picturesque profile. He acknowledged the previous suggestion to minimize the profile of the walkway by depressing it below the roofline; this solution was considered, but it would create problems such as water infiltration and the need for outside stairs.
Mr. Chalifoux then discussed the proposed expansion of the areaways around the Castle. These would serve multiple purposes, including the accommodation of seismic upgrades to the Castle’s foundation. Indicating a diagram of existing areaways and aprons, he said that the intent is to make the areaways more regular in size and location; this will facilitate incorporating some of the seismic joints into the bottom of the areaways. Elsewhere, the seismic joints would be at grade, concealed by a joint cover, or would be unobtrusively located beneath projecting elements such as exterior stairs. He said that the areaways on the south side of the Castle would serve as egress routes and possibly as occupiable outdoor areas opening off new interior public space in the basement level; existing door and window openings would be reused or modified. On the north side of the Castle, an existing shallow areaway along the east wing would be deepened, and an existing window would be modified to serve as an egress door. New areaway windows aligned with the existing fenestration above would be added to provide additional daylight for the basement. He noted that during the construction and modification of areaways, as much of the historic building material as possible would be retained, including the Seneca sandstone facades and the rubble stone foundation; however, the foundation materials were not intended to be exposed, so these would be parged with colored cement, a technique that has historically been used on the Castle. Retaining walls around the areaways would be built primarily of cast stone.
Mr. Chalifoux then presented the proposed changes to the AIB. He said the building’s interior was originally designed to be as open as possible, allowing visitors to move freely throughout the exhibition halls. The proposed design is intended to regain that historic open interior for public use, and a key part of achieving this is the creation of a basement level for mechanical and back-of-house activities; this new level would be aligned with the first level of the proposed CUP and with the connector joining the Castle and the AIB to the loading dock. He said that providing below-ground services to both buildings would eliminate the need to serve them from grade level through the public entrances.
Mr. Chalifoux described the plan of the AIB: four courts arranged in a square configuration around a central rotunda, and surrounded by lower galleries or “ranges.” Each court projects above the surrounding roofs as a large, low monitor with window openings on all sides. Mechanical systems are proposed to be located in the two courts on the building’s south side, away from the Mall, where the windows would be replaced with louvers; the clerestory windows of the north courts would be restored to bring light into interior spaces of the building. The new mechanical systems would require the addition of new roof elements: emergency generator exhausts in the southeast quadrant, and restroom and kitchen venting through exhaust pipes on the range roofs between the courts. He noted that these roofs have a low slope and are almost invisible from ground level; keeping the profiles of the new elements low and placing them on the lowest roofs would reduce their visibility as much as possible.
Mr. Chalifoux said that new areaways would be constructed on the west side of the AIB to accommodate relief air vents from the CUP; these would be visible as louvered vents on the vertical face of the areaways, and as a grate system at grade that would be shielded from view by plantings. He added that the venting through these areaways would not produce noise nor extreme heat. Constructing and enlarging the AIB’s areaways would expose foundation walls of black gneiss, some of which is already visible around the building perimeter. The newly exposed gneiss would probably be dressed, and the area below would be parged concrete.
Mr. Chalifoux described the four new egress doors that would be created at an intermediate level between the basement and the main floor. Construction of these doors would entail the removal of some historic building fabric, possibly including brick, limestone, granite, and gneiss; as much of this material as possible would be salvaged to use for repair or patching.
Mr. Chalifoux said the CUP involves the construction of three new below-ground levels; the project team is attempting to minimize the impact of the excavation. The extent of the B2 level, shared by the CUP and the overall expansion, has been reduced by more than 17,000 square feet from the previous design, and the current proposal has reduced the amount of excavation next to the Castle. In conjunction with the seismic upgrades to the Castle, the building’s existing basement floor would be lowered to make the basement usable for public functions, and an additional basement level would be excavated below to create space for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing services. He noted that an additional project to create a connection between the Castle and the below-grade Quadrangle Building will be considered at a later time.
Finally, Mr. Chalifoux presented the proposed new cooling towers, to be located across the Mall adjacent to the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). He indicated the existing NMNH cooling tower array from the early 1990s, located at the southeast corner of the NMNH site. The proposed cooling towers, set within enclosure walls, would be placed in a corresponding location at the NMNH site’s southwest corner; the grade at this location, within the NMNH parking lot, is a level lower than the Mall, which would help reduce the enclosure’s visibility from the Mall and from 12th Street. He noted that the same siting strategy was used in the 1990s for the existing cooling tower array, which was determined to have no adverse effect on the appearance of the NMNH building.
Mr. Chalifoux said the proposed enclosure of cooling towers would generally resemble the appearance of the existing array. The new enclosure would be kept as low as possible, rising nearly ten feet above the Madison Drive sidewalk; this would be slightly higher than the existing enclosure because it will enclose different types of cooling towers. He added that extensive plantings, maintained by the Smithsonian, also help shield the existing enclosure from view, and this strategy would be repeated for the new cooling towers. The new cooling tower array would be connected to the South Mall Campus via a new underground tunnel, to be located 25 to 35 feet below the grade of the Mall; he said the tunnel would have no impact on the Mall landscape or existing underground utilities. He noted that the existing steam tunnel beneath the Mall does not meet the necessary requirements for the new connection.
Ms. Harwell then presented the revised design for the landscapes and perimeter security, beginning with the design at the cooling tower array within the NMNH grounds. She indicated the native vegetation that shields the existing perimeter security along Madison Drive and 12th Street; these plantings would be replaced in kind. The adjacent grades would be raised and sloped to redirect drainage away from the enclosure wall and to provide Smithsonian gardeners with safer access to the plantings. Similar concepts would guide work along the 12th Street side, where perimeter security would be maintained and where safe access would be provided to allow for the maintenance and replacement of plantings.
Ms. Harwell said the existing landscape surrounding the Castle and the AIB was planted following a 1983 plan developed by Sasaki Associates with landscape architect Lester Collins. This landscape would need to be rehabilitated after the installation of the new and expanded areaways and the other changes required for universal access and emergency egress. She said that the proposed landscape design maintains the intent of the Sasaki and Collins plan, creating some additional views through the plantings to the Castle towers and providing adequate space on the Castle’s north and south sides for maintenance of its facades.
Ms. Harwell said the disturbed area of the Enid Haupt Garden would be replanted following a new design that maintains the existing character. Layered plantings would screen the areaways; plantings would also be added in the occupiable areaways connecting to the Castle’s basement, making them green and pleasant places. The two terraces in front of the AIB’s west facade would be rebuilt and incorporated into the rehabilitated landscape, scaled to allow enough room for plantings around them and to accommodate the new utility exhaust vents behind them.
Ms. Harwell described the proposed treatment of the Ripley Garden, originally designed by architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen in 1978 for the area between the east facade of the AIB and Hirshhorn Museum. This garden would be redesigned following the original concept and using the same planting materials, with the design adapted to provide space for a new loading area and also a new egress and fall-protection railing that would be set into the southeast corner of the AIB. The existing pedestrian path through the garden would be maintained, and a short section of the Jacobsen-designed fencing would be moved to another location. Near the northwest corner of the AIB is the small Folger Rose Garden, part of the public space area along Jefferson Drive and relating to the nearby Haupt Garden and Ripley Garden. The strategy for the Rose Garden includes the alteration of a single area with preservation of the rest. The final garden area to be redesigned is the Fountain Garden at the National Museum of African Art; details of this design will be included in the next submission.
Ms. Harwell then presented the plans for new perimeter security measures along the north facade of the Castle along Jefferson Drive. She noted that the existing pedestrian access here includes a somewhat complicated arrangement of terraces and steps. The redesign is intended to make this area universally accessible, with symmetrically placed ramps on each side with handrails and bollards. She stressed the intent to maintain a gentle, understated appearance for the security installation, avoiding the need for a continuous row of bollards along Jefferson Drive, a goal that presents a considerable design challenge. The options include various configurations of site walls and bollards, including stone-clad as well as metal bollards. Stone-clad bollards would define entrances and other areas where people would walk near bollards; metal bollards would be used in other areas. The stone-clad bollards would take cues from the existing materials—brick, Seneca sandstone, the granite cladding of the site walls, and the Castle’s masonry base—for their proportions, color, tone, and jointing pattern. Retractable metal bollards would be used where maintenance and security vehicles would need to pass. In all options, a symmetrical arrangement of a pedestrian ramp with a large planting bed in front would adjoin the porte cochere and stairway leading to the Castle’s main entrance. She said the perimeter security options have been developed to provide an adequate offset distance from the buildings without creating a continuous line of bollards along the curb.
Ms. Harwell indicated the project team’s preferred option for perimeter security along Jefferson Drive: a line of stone-clad, metal, and retractable bollards that ties back to the site walls of the raised planting beds. A second option proposes a continuous line of bollards along the curb, primarily metal bollards; stone-clad bollards would be placed in front of the main entrance, and retractable bollards would be placed at vehicular entrances. In this option, the two planting beds would be at ground level, planted mostly with lawn; because they would be located behind the line of bollards, these planting beds would not require site walls to form part of the security system. A third option would connect the bollards in front of the porte cochere to a line of bollards running through ground-level planting beds, hidden by dense plantings; she noted the challenge of maintaining the plantings with this option. At the Ripley Garden, the bollards would tie into the existing brick site walls; the Smithsonian staff has determined that the profile of these is sufficient to obviate the need for bollards, subject to further study.
Ms. Harwell then presented the security proposed to extend along Independence Avenue in front of the south facade of the AIB. In response to the concerns raised by the Commission in the previous review, the revised design minimizes the access ramps as much as possible, and the plantings and light posts along the curb have been recomposed to create a more elegant and balanced elevation. She added that the configuration may be adjusted further to allow more clear width along the Independence Avenue sidewalk. At the north entrance to the AIB, an existing ramp extends to the west but none is provided to the east; the proposal for the north entrance would provide universal access from both the west and east.
Ms. Harwell said that on the south side of the Castle, in the Haupt Garden, the existing conditions still reflect the Sasaki and Collins plan, except for the addition in the late 1980s of a ramp to the Castle’s south entrance, placed above the historic steps. The project team first considered installing a broad ramp to the building, but the current proposal is a narrower ramp that avoids intruding on the building’s colonettes and their bases; this design includes a low bronze kick rail.
Chair Tsien thanked the team for its thorough presentation, and she invited questions and comments from the Commission members.
Mr. McCrery commented that the proposed stone-clad bollards are not persuasive as individual parts of a secure barrier. He acknowledged the intent to adopt the material palette of the Castle, but he observed that bollards and buildings are typologically different objects. He recommended designing the bollard as a beautiful piece of cast steel or iron rather than as an object designed in reference to a different category of structure. He noted that, as an architect, he is often asked if he dislikes utilitarian objects such as exit signs, ramps, or bollards, and his response is that he does not object to them, because as pieces of infrastructure they are so ubiquitous they are virtually invisible; however, designing the bollards as stone objects might call too much attention to them. Unlike the bollards, he said the stone site walls would not be seen as objects. He observed that the proposed site walls are handsome and could be considered compatible with the bollards as an additional security measure, and he supported the use of the raised planting beds in the suggested locations. He recommended looking at the raised perimeter site walls of the Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress as an example of an appropriate level of detail, and he suggested imagining how James Renwick, the architect of the Castle, would have detailed these walls if they had been part of the original design. Finally, he commented that the proposed design for the site walls, although a good match for the material palette, looks much too spare in comparison to the Castle.
Ms. Harwell responded that Mr. McCrery’s comments on the design of the site walls are welcome because the project team has not yet decided on a solution. Noting her background in historic preservation, she expressed appreciation for the design of site walls at both the Library of Congress and at the U.S. Capitol. She said it has been difficult deciding whether to adopt the spare appearance used at the Haupt Garden along Independence Avenue, or a more detailed approach, or something in between.
Mr. Moore concurred with Mr. McCrery that the stone bollard is not a successful design, and the simplified metal bollard is preferable. He commented that the design for the site walls has not quite achieved a balance between relating to the Castle and respecting the public space of the pedestrian sidewalk. He suggested that this may be a matter of further developing the details and perhaps returning with more options.
Mr. R.M. Cook agreed with his colleagues about the bollards. He asked why the presence of bollards within the planting beds would make gardening difficult. Ms. Harwell said that to provide the necessary security, the bollards would need to have heavy linear footings, which would change the flow and drainage of water in the planting beds. Mr. Luebke added that the relevant design option is the one in which the planting beds are not raised but are at grade, with a line of heavy bollards hidden within the plantings. Mr. McCrery commented that clearly visible security measures would be a more effective deterrent than a hidden barrier.
Ms. Tsien expressed admiration for the work of both the architects and landscape architects on this proposal. She commended the presentation for its clarity and thoroughness; she said the project team clearly has listened to the Commission’s previous comments, especially regarding the earlier proposal for providing roof egress from the east wing of the Castle. She said the revised proposal for a minimal walkway and railing is a much better solution, as is moving the elevator so that its large bulkhead can be replaced by a small protrusion.
However, Ms. Tsien said she is concerned about the proposal to place the cooling tower array at the National Museum of Natural History. She observed that even though the technology for the current proposal is different, the design would be mimicking the nearby thirty-year-old installation. She asked what message this would give and, more importantly, what effect it would have in the present day as architects try to work with issues of sustainability. She asked if the project team has considered a geothermal solution, perhaps even the idea of placing geothermal well fields within the Mall. She observed that the Mall could be considered sacred space, but it is also open land, and geothermal wells could be seen as supporting its spirit. Although constructing geothermal wells on the Mall would temporarily create a mess, the lawns could be replanted. She asked how the decision was made to use an energy source requiring new cooling towers, and whether alternative energy sources had been considered.
Mr. Chalifoux responded that he would defer to the engineers on the technical decisions; however, the designers have worked hard to understand what can be achieved from energy performance. He noted that the project is limited to working within the boundaries of Smithsonian property, whereas operating the CUP with geothermal energy would require a massive wellfield that would have to be located outside the Smithsonian’s boundaries. He emphasized that the project team has made a serious effort to minimize the energy loads, but they were unable to reduce it to the point where cooling towers would not be necessary. He added that earlier studies had clarified the difficulty of placing the cooling towers on the South Mall campus. He said that in the short term, the CUP and cooling towers would be serving only these two buildings, but eventually this infrastructure would be supplying energy to the entire South Mall Campus; the cooling towers are therefore being sized to support all the buildings on that campus. He asked Ms. Trowbridge to discuss the challenges of working outside the Smithsonian’s boundaries.
Ms. Trowbridge said the question of putting geothermal wells on the National Mall has not been explored in depth. She noted that since the National Park Service has recently completed its lawn turf project, the Smithsonian would have to bear the cost of restoring the lawn after placing wells on the Mall. She noted that the installation of wells could also shut down areas of the Mall that are needed for national events held by statutory authority, such as inaugurals and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She said her own previous experience leads her to agree with Mr. Chalifoux that a huge number of wells would be required, but she said the question can be studied in more detail and presented to the Commission at the next review. Ms. Tsien said she would like to have this information presented, commenting that this problem should not be pushed down the road for the next generation to solve, which is frequently done with such questions. She acknowledged the many jurisdictional and budget issues.
Ms. Trowbridge noted that the proposed system is designed for eventual conversion to an electric power source; Mr. Chalifoux added that with conversion to electric as a long-term goal, the project team is looking at the components of the CUP itself. He observed that Ms. Tsien had referred to replicating a thirty-year-old technology; he said that, in fact, the proposed new cooling towers would be very different from the existing array, using the best and most efficient current technology. He said that the need for chilled water, along with the desire to control the energy source, led to the Smithsonian’s proposal to build the new cooling plant; the Smithsonian’s energy source is currently outside its control, while the new facility would be fully under Smithsonian management. Ms. Tsien acknowledged that the project team is not proposing to use an old technology, but she asked them to consider the question of what is visionary for energy production and how this vision can be encouraged. Mr. Chalifoux said the project team has extensive data from its analysis; this information may have been shared in an abbreviated form, and it can be provided more fully to the Commission to clarify why this option has been chosen.
Mr. Moore said that he would like to have an understanding of the scale of the possible footprint required for a geothermal field that could serve the Smithsonian’s long-term needs for the campus, and perhaps including the potential sites for new Smithsonian museums; to see this laid out, even in just a conceptual drawing, would be helpful. He said it would also be useful to know whether the life cycle of the existing cooling tower facility has been incorporated into long-term thinking; he noted that there may be some efficiencies to be gained from other options.
Chair Tsien asked Mr. Luebke for guidance on framing a motion. Secretary Luebke said the project has been submitted as a revised concept. He observed that the Commission seems to be generally satisfied with the proposals for the areaways and the development of the rooftop design, and fairly supportive of the landscape design, including the proposed interventions for the edges and grounds of the AIB. The Commission members have discussed some specific ideas about the treatment of bollards, as well as the interaction between site walls and bollards, which the staff can work on with the project team. Noting the concern with the cooling tower proposal, he suggested that the Commission could approve the revised concept with the exception of the cooling tower, requesting more information explaining on the utility system’s long-term capacity and alternative design options. He noted that much of this study has been done, and the project team would need to document and present it; however, the Commission is clearly asking for a forward-looking solution.
Mr. Stroik asked to discuss the porte cochere on the north facade of the Castle before voting on a motion. He asked if the stairway leading up to the building’s main entrance would still be in the porte cochere; Mr. Chalifoux and Ms. Harwell confirmed that it would remain there. Mr. Stroik asked if the project team has considered omitting bollards directly in front of the porte cochere to retain its welcoming appearance; he also asked if the stairway would be sufficient by itself to deter cars from driving into the building. Ms. Harwell clarified that the perimeter security issue is not limited to cars driving into the building, but also preventing cars with explosives from coming close to the building. She said a further problem is that the porte cochere is fragile and could not withstand being rammed by a vehicle. Mr. Stroik emphasized that the porte cochere is the historic entrance and would remain as the main entrance to the Castle, and it would be preferable not to have bollards in front of it; he asked the project team to study this design option. Ms. Harwell said she believes this has been explored but offered to take another look.
To confirm the Commission’s guidance on the infrastructure, Mr. McCrery offered a motion requesting the Smithsonian to explore in depth the possibility and requirements of using a portion of the Mall for a field of geothermal wells with sufficient capacity for the heating and cooling loads handled by the Central Utility Plant, and to present their findings and recommendations to the Commission. Secretary Luebke suggested approving the revised concept proposal in general, and either accepting or exempting the infrastructure proposal, with the request for more study; this response could allow for consideration of other alternatives, such as a geothermal well field located somewhere other than the Mall. Mr. McCrery said he is intentionally separating this issue from the larger question of approving the rest of the design. Mr. Stroik asked the reason for separate motions; Mr. McCrery said he is just trying to make it a clean, clear action. Mr. Stroik said he prefers framing the action as a single motion, and he asked for clarification of the project’s approval status. Mr. Luebke said the project has already been approved in concept, and the current submission is a development of the design. Approval of the submission would basically be saying that the Commission is satisfied with the design where it is; if instead the Commission wants to press its concern, an approval could exempt the cooling tower array from the action and say that the Commission is not comfortable with this part of the project, requesting more information. He said that providing more information on this limited topic should not be difficult for the project team to do at this stage of the review process, as the project is still a work in progress rather than a final design.
Mr. McCrery said the project team has essentially presented three different and separable considerations: the treatment of the Castle; the treatment of the AIB; and the cooling towers. He clarified that each of these includes associated components of the landscape design. Chair Tsien observed that separate motions would be complicated; she proposed that the Commission approve the revised concept while requesting further development of the bollard and site wall treatment at the entrances, along with additional information on the mechanical systems.
As further guidance for the project team, Mr. P. Cook suggested eliminating one of the security options. He said that the option with stone-clad bollards has a certain elegance but also conveys a feeling of grandeur that he is not comfortable with. He suggested eliminating this option, with the guidance that the other options are viable and should be further studied. Mr. Luebke observed the apparent consensus that this option is the most problematic because of its varied treatment of the bollards, and eliminating it would make sense; Chair Tsien agreed. Mr. Luebke noted that the remaining two options include one with at-grade planting beds but a relentless line of bollards at the curb, while the other, which the Commission members had discussed the most and seemed to favor, has raised planting beds. Mr. P. Cook confirmed that he supports further development of the option with raised planting beds, with refinement of details such as the planter walls while using a simple vocabulary of bollards; Mr. Moore agreed. Mr. McCrery added that the Commission should also request further study of the engineering and technical details of the cooling plant, with the findings and recommendations to be presented to the Commission.
Chair Tsien summarized the consensus to approve the revised concept with the request that the project team return with details on the engineering of the proposed cooling towers along with options for an alternative energy production, as well as more development of the design for the perimeter security option with raised planters along Jefferson Drive. Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Mr. Moore, the Commission adopted this action.
C. National Capital Planning Commission
CFA 17/FEB/22-2, Monumental Core Streetscape Project, National Mall and West Potomac Park, from 3rd to 23rd Streets, NW. Update of the Streetscape Manual for the National Mall – vertical and surface elements. Information presentation. (Previous: CFA 20/JUN/19-3) Secretary Luebke introduced the information presentation on the Monumental Core Streetscape Project, a planning initiative managed by the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC). The broader initiative includes three documents that are being developed or updated:
- Urban Design Streetscape Framework, which maps streets by category according to their character as part of the Monumental Core, with associated lighting policies;
- Streetscape Design Guidelines, which addresses streetscape elements and related issues; and
- Streetscape Construction Manual, which provides guidance to the agencies that manage the properties and streets on and around the Mall.
He said that today’s presentation addresses the vertical and surface elements comprising the streetscape, as part of the update to the Streetscape Design Guidelines; the goal of studying these components is to promote a coordinated and consistent streetscape. He noted that other components of the update were presented to the Commission in June 2019, including lighting policies and the Urban Design Streetscape Framework. He said the guiding principles for the update have been developed by an interagency working group, which includes the staff of the Commission and other federal and D.C. agencies.
Mr. Luebke said the Commission’s comments will help NCPC to develop the guidelines for the small-scale streetscape elements and will also help with the update of the Streetscape Construction Manual, which will be presented to the Commission in the future. He asked Elizabeth Miller, director of NCPC’s physical planning division, to begin the presentation.
Ms. Miller said the Monumental Core has a convergence of many different jurisdictions, and the update initiative has involved a coordination and consensus-building process among eleven D.C. and federal agencies. The collaborative effort is developing important guidelines for the Monumental Core streetscapes that are of the highest national importance. As recommended by the Commission in the 2019 review, the initiative also includes coordination with the D.C. Government on some nearby areas that are outside the project’s boundaries.
Ms. Miller emphasized that the Monumental Core’s beautiful streetscapes contribute to the identity, character, comfort, experience, and memory of public life in the nation’s capital. The update is focused on developing a consistent and cohesive palette of durable, well-placed elements that are functional, clear, and coherent. She said that the Commission’s past comments, as well as those given today, are valuable in developing the guidelines; she anticipated that the result would be presented to the Commission in approximately a year. She introduced Meghan Dowker, an NCPC senior planner who serves as project manager for the Streetscape Design Guidelines, to present the larger conceptual framework and the specific components for today’s discussion.
Mrs. Dowker said that the broader Monumental Core Streetscape Project, led by NCPC, is a multi-phased update of the Streetscape Manual, which was originally issued in 1992 to inform a coordinated and consistent streetscape treatment for roadways in the vicinity of the National Mall. This document includes construction details and specifications, along with streetscape design guidelines; the current project will supplement this information. She said that federal and D.C. agencies have been using these details in their designs and have been holding regular meetings of a working group to coordinate streetscape projects. Additionally, the staffs of the Commission and NCPC have been using the Streetscape Manual during the project review process to ensure consistency of design and materials. Emphasizing the importance of achieving consistency among different agencies, she presented a map of more than 25 road construction projects in recent decades that have been coordinated using the Streetscape Manual¸ including projects overseen by the Architect of the Capitol, the D.C. Department of Transportation, and the National Park Service.
Ms. Dowker said that the working group currently includes eleven agencies, all signatories to an agreement supporting the update effort of the Monumental Core Streetscape Project. The components of the update are being developed in close coordination with the working group and with input from agency experts, such as arborists and lighting designers. She said the several components of the project will be packaged into a new guide intended to inform the character of civic streetscapes, and also to improve connections between the Monumental Core and surrounding areas of Washington. She summarized the guidance provided by the Commission in 2019 for the project’s urban design and lighting studies to anticipate contemporary environmental issues; understand streetscapes as performative landscape systems; and emphasize the continuity of major axial and diagonal roadways as they cross the Monumental Core boundary, perhaps using the boundary as the location for significant thresholds at points of entry into the monumental core.
Ms. Dowker also noted NCPC’s support of its staff initiative, with encouragement to use the Urban Design Streetscape Framework as the basis for developing the Streetscape Design Guidelines and updating the Streetscape Construction Manual. As a result, the elements being presented today are reliant on the Framework for context, and she provided an overview of the Framework to facilitate today’s discussion. She presented a map with color-coding for the street categories—radiating, edging, connecting, traversing, and local streets. She also indicated the study’s boundary, which has been expanded to include Banneker Park, the Kennedy Center, and adjacent areas such as the corridor of E Street, NW. The area within the boundary is directly addressed by this project; the area outside the boundary is being coordinated through a Memorandum of Understanding with the D.C. Department of Transportation and the D.C. Office of Planning, and the resulting guidance will help to achieve the continuity and transitions that were recommended by the Commission. She added that the guidance for areas outside the boundary would be issued separately as the Companion Streetscape Review Guide.
Ms. Dowker said that the Urban Design Streetscape Framework designates eleven “character areas” that describe the unique characteristics of each precinct or neighborhood, including land use, urban design, architecture, and landscape; she cited the example of the U.S. Capitol complex, while noting that these areas do not necessarily correspond to jurisdictional boundaries. She added that many neighborhoods beyond the project boundary have their own unique streetscape character. She said that the Framework also identifies various types of gateways, transitional thresholds, and axial approaches, which articulate the sense of arrival along the streetscape; she noted that this component has been refined in response to the Commission’s previous guidance. As examples, she indicated the gateway to the capital city at Union Station; the transitional threshold to the Smithsonian museums at 10th Street, SW; and the axial approach to the National Mall from Virginia Avenue, NW, which is designed to reinforce continuity and support open axial views.
Ms. Dowker then presented the vertical and surface elements in the Streetscape Design Guidelines, which are being developed to supplement the Streetscape Construction Manual by providing guidance to agencies for consistent streetscape treatments. She noted that earlier in the month, NCPC released the proposed Streetscape Design Guidelines for a 90-day public comment period, while also directing the NCPC staff to use the Guidelines as the basis for updating the Construction Manual. She said that NCPC also reinforced the previous comment from the Commission of Fine Arts to encourage continuity of streetscapes across the project boundary, reinforcing the relationship between the Monumental Core and the adjacent areas of the city.
Ms. Dowker illustrated the many different streetscape elements that are addressed by the Guidelines; these are organized into vertical, surface, and small-scale elements. The vertical and surface elements serve to shape streetscape corridors, frame vistas, and inform character; the guidance is for a relatively high degree of consistency for these elements. The small-scale elements serve to reinforce neighborhood identity and distinguish the character areas; a greater degree of variability is permitted for these elements. The desired degree of consistency is also defined in relationship to the street categories established in the Urban Design Streetscape Framework.
Ms. Dowker presented the proposed guidance for vertical elements, which include streetlights and trees. She said that streetlights are important because they express the framework of the capital city’s streetscapes; their nighttime illumination provides character and supports safety. The guidelines for vertical elements address the design of the streetlights; she noted that the character of the light itself is addressed separately in the lighting policies, which are coordinated with a city-wide effort to convert streetlighting to LED technology. She said that the existing Streetscape Manual specifies a limited palette for streetlights: the historic Twin-20 and Washington Globe streetlights that are found throughout the city, and the Olmsted streetlights that are only used on the Mall. The palette would be expanded to include special streetlights that are in use in some areas, such as the tiered streetlights along Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. The guidance would also be expanded to address details such as spatial configurations and the streetlight height; she noted the wide range of pole heights that has been observed for extant streetlights. She emphasized that the guidelines would promote streetlights that unify the city’s streets, highlight unique areas, and express the dignity of the nation’s capital.
Ms. Dowker said that another category of streetlight guidance is to improve lighting for the crosswalks between the Mall’s lawn panels. This is intended to address concerns about inadequate lighting on the Mall and to support the D.C. Government’s “Vision Zero” goal of improving pedestrian safety. She indicated the mapped locations for the potential addition of lighting at Mall crosswalks. The proposal results from coordination with federal agencies to develop recommendations that balance pedestrian safety and the historic preservation concern of maintaining the dimly lit nighttime character of the east–west vista along the Mall’s central lawn panels. She said the guidelines would achieve a consistent lighting palette on the Mall while improving nighttime safety at crosswalks.
Ms. Dowker presented the guidelines for street trees, which she said are important in framing vistas, open spaces, and important structures, while also providing environmental benefits. She noted that the existing guidelines do not address present-day horticultural trends, including diversity of species and improved resistance to pests and diseases. While the existing guidelines identify a recommended tree species for each street, the new guidelines would focus on the spatial quality of the tree canopy, with consideration of how the tree shape affects the character and views along a street. In response to the Commission’s previous recommendation, the palette of trees would be broadened, with greater consideration of tree health, in recognition of the trees being part of a complex system of living organisms. The new guidelines would promote consistent tree forms and height at maturity in order to clearly frame important views. The traditional reliance on the American elm and similar trees would be limited to the Mall, where historic preservation is of the highest importance. In support of the D.C. Government’s objective of achieving a 40 percent tree canopy cover by 2032, the guidelines look to historic planting designs for multiple rows of trees on some streets.
Ms. Dowker said the guidelines will also address the treatment of tree boxes; she said that current guidance for tree boxes does not adequately address stormwater management, especially in areas with a large number of pedestrians. The project includes documentation of existing conditions, including historic landscape treatments. The new guidelines will provide for greater design consistency and improved bioretention; a range of visually compatible options will be identified for the design of the tree boxes, based on streetscape and landscape character as well as the volume of pedestrian traffic.
Ms. Dowker next presented the guidance for surface elements, which serve to enhance vistas and inform the streetscape character. The categories of surface elements include landscapes and plantings, stormwater management, pavement, and pedestrian circulation. She said that the landscape and plantings are important because they unify streets, enhance vistas, and provide environmental benefits. The existing Streetscape Manual specifies a limited palette consisting of mulched tree plantings and turf grasses. To achieve a more unified vision, the proposed guidance identifies a landscape character based on land uses, setting, sidewalk configurations, and the extent of vegetated open spaces and trees. Vegetation height is also addressed: a shorter height would generally be preferred on the radiating and edging streets, which are those relating to nationally significant structures and open spaces; a taller height would be appropriate for connecting and traversing streets, which are those that relate to multiple nationally significant destinations. The guidelines would support a greater diversity of plantings, including native and pollinator-friendly plants, and would address improving the soil for healthier plantings.
Ms. Dowker described the guidance for stormwater management, which she said is important because it improves environmental quality, filters pollutants, and reduces strain on the existing stormwater infrastructure. Guidance in the existing Streetscape Manual is limited to built elements such as catch basins and inlets, but it does not address best practices and techniques for stormwater management. The new guidelines would respond to the Commission’s previous guidance to consider contemporary environmental issues, such as streams and localized flooding; the guidelines are also being coordinated with comprehensive plan policies and federal and local regulations relating to stormwater. The guidelines would generally encourage the use of current best management practices based on urban design considerations, except in limited areas with special visual, functional, or historic preservation concerns. Proper maintenance of stormwater facilities would also be addressed.
Ms. Dowker presented the guidelines for pavement, which serves to convey streetscape character and facilitate circulation. The existing Streetscape Manual specifies the use of exposed-aggregate sidewalks, granite curbs, and either asphalt or red brick for gutters. In practice, multiple different materials are being used for these features, and the new guidelines would focus on unifying the pavement character, recognizing special areas, addressing transitions, and responding to environmental issues. The emphasis on exposed-aggregate concrete would remain for many parts of the Monumental Core, while identifying where a different paving treatment would highlight special and historic areas, resulting in a more diverse palette than currently exists. The guidelines would also encourage paving that enables comfortable movement, simplifies material transitions, improves stormwater management, and mitigates the heat island effect.
Ms. Dowker said that guidelines for pedestrian circulation promote a more comfortable environment. The existing Streetscape Manual identifies pedestrian ways as part of the roadway classifications, but it does not provide guidance for a minimum amount of space needed for pedestrians, nor for how other transportation modes interact with pedestrian space. She noted the existing D.C. guidance for sidewalk widths, and the shared use of bicycles and newer micro-mobility modes, such as dockless scooters, within the pedestrian spaces of the Mall. The new guidelines would recommend minimum sidewalk widths and pedestrian clear zones, as well as designate multi-use and restricted-use trails. She noted that the new guidelines would focus on pedestrian circulation, not on broader transportation issues nor on curbside management; she said this guidance is being coordinated with other federal and local plans and regulations. In general, the pedestrian-related guidelines would support enhanced circulation routes for safe, comfortable, and enjoyable pedestrian movement; provide access to destinations and events; ensure consistent alignment and adequate size of pedestrian spaces; and coordinate pedestrian space with other streetscape zones and travel modes.
Ms. Dowker summarized that the guidelines for vertical and surface elements would address the placement, configuration, and type of streetscape elements, affecting the design, character, and physical quality of the Monumental Core’s streets. As an example, she presented an illustrative street section for Constitution Avenue, NW, which is categorized as a radiating and edging street. She indicated the double row of vase-shaped or spreading-canopy trees, Twin-20 streetlights, and unified plantings and surface materials. For the example of 12th Street, SW, which is a connecting and traversing street, she indicated the single row of round-shaped trees and the Washington Globe streetlights.
Ms. Dowker concluded by discussing the current work and next steps for the project. As part of the Streetscape Design Guidelines, guidance is being developed for the small-scale elements, addressing furnishings such as benches and trash receptacles to meet current needs and standards. Civic infrastructure will also be addressed, such as fire hydrants, drinking fountains, and newer technology, including car-charging stations. Existing perimeter security will also be inventoried, but the guidance for small-scale elements will not specify perimeter security elements or designs. Work on updating the Streetscape Construction Manual will begin soon, and collaboration with the D.C. Government will continue for the Companion Streetscape Review Guide that will address transitions to nearby neighborhoods. The specifications for LED lighting will also be updated in coordination with the ongoing lighting project of the D.C. Department of Transportation. She added that pilot streetscape guidelines are currently being developed for three streets: 16th Street, NW, north of the White House; South Capitol Street; and Massachusetts Avenue, NE, near Union Station.
Ms. Dowker summarized that the Monumental Core has beautiful, inviting, and functional streetscapes; this project would put guidance in place to more consistently achieve this level of quality, regardless of differing agency jurisdictions. The new documents would also assist in coordination by the interagency working group as well as the review agencies and their staffs.
Chair Tsien confirmed that this agenda item is an information presentation, with no action needed by the Commission. Secretary Luebke clarified that the Commission is invited to provide upper-level guidance or any other comments that would add to the development of the project. He observed that the project is going through a lengthy interagency consultation process, but the Commission may have further guidance to add. Mr. McCrery noted the broad extent of the presentation, and he asked if the underlying document is available for closer reading. Ms. Dowker responded that the document is available on the NCPC website, through a page for the Monumental Core Initiative.
Mr. Moore expressed his appreciation to the NCPC staff for their work on this project, recognizing that it involves many layers of issues, jurisdictions, and other considerations. He observed that the components of the project have been established and appear to be progressing well. However, he said that the development of the guidelines, particularly for the vertical elements, needs to be more forward-thinking and comprehensive in considering issues of future infrastructure and service needs. For example, the role of emerging technologies was referenced by including car-charging stations, but cities are also currently dealing with many other technology issues such as communications and navigation, which can exert pressure on the evolution of our streetscapes. He said the effect of this pressure is already evident in New York City streetscapes, and Washington will be facing the same issues. He said the guidelines being developed by NCPC provide an opportunity to take the lead in addressing these concerns in a comprehensive manner; he emphasized the importance of careful research and proactive thinking in developing the guidelines, rather than merely being reactive in the future as new innovations or needs emerge. In addition to communications and information technology, he said that another area needing further development is climate change and resilience, going beyond the presented topics of stormwater management and green infrastructure. He suggested consideration of disaster response, including the deployment of operational responses as well as the design and configuration of streetscapes to address this issue.
Mr. Moore also recommended focusing on the actual uses of the streetscape space, providing a more human and public perspective on the project. The presentation noted micro-mobility modes, which can result in conflicts with pedestrians; this project should address how the streetscape design can be a tool for allocating and managing public space. He said that the issues go beyond public safety to include usability, comfort, and accessibility for people. He observed that the current situation is very opportunistic and not well informed; the further development of this project provides an opportunity to consider these issues.
Mr. Moore emphasized the importance of temporary or ephemeral uses in the Monumental Core, such as street vendors. He said that this should be part of the consideration of the area’s urban design and urbanism in relation to how the spaces are actually used, from a human and social perspective, rather than just calling for best practices and a visual image of good design.
Mr. Moore noted that New York has already progressed through several versions of contemporary streetscape planning, and he recommended New York’s planning document as a reference for NCPC’s work. He reiterated the current trend toward a focus on “socially thinking” dimensions of how we design our streets.
Mr. McCrery expressed support for Mr. Moore’s comments. Mr. McCrery questioned NCPC’s decision that “curbside management” is outside the purview of this project, observing that many of the presented topics are a form of curbside management; he asked for clarification of the intended meaning of this term. Ms. Dowker confirmed that it includes transportation-related issues such as parking and taxi drop-off; the expectation is that this would be managed by the agencies that control the streets, including the National Park Service and the D.C. Department of Transportation, and NCPC is incorporating their policies where appropriate. Mr. McCrery suggested that NCPC take the lead on these issues rather than cede the authority to other agencies. He observed that vendor trucks, while filling an important role in selling food or souvenirs, are clearly vertical elements within the streetscape, and they should be included in this category for NCPC’s study; he described their omission as a massive oversight and a gap in NCPC’s understanding of vertical elements. He emphasized that trucks and other parked vehicles have a major visual impact through their presence on streets crossing the Mall; he said the solution could be to prohibit parking on these streets between Madison and Jefferson Drives, or at least between the inner crosswalks framing the center panels of the Mall. The result would be that visitors to Washington could enjoy a truly open vista along the length of the Mall, without interruption by routine urban functions. He stressed the critical importance of recognizing vehicles as an important component of the streetscape’s vertical elements.
Mr. McCrery expressed support for the encouragement of trees as part of the streetscape. He said that elms should continue to be favored as an appropriate street tree, as well as white oaks and perhaps red oaks; the advantage of these trees is that the shape of their canopies does not conflict with the passage of trucks and buses on the street. While acknowledging the beauty of round-shaped trees, as referenced in the presentation, he observed that along streets they are often subjected to a carve-out to allow large vehicles to pass, resulting in an unsightly appearance. He suggested further consultation with the arborists who are supporting the project’s research.
Ms. Miller expressed appreciation for the comments being provided. She acknowledged that NCPC faces the challenge of jurisdictional limitations, which can constrain the range of issues for which NCPC can have a leadership role. However, the interagency working group includes the agencies that have jurisdictional responsibility for these issues, and she offered to raise the concerns with the wider group to explore possible solutions. Mr. McCrery noted that the D.C. Department of Transportation has been undertaking a city-wide effort to reduce the number of on-street parking spaces, as part of a policy to reduce the attractiveness of automobile use in the city. He observed that reducing the parking availability on the Mall’s streets would be consistent with this D.C. policy.
Dr. Edwards said that she agrees with Mr. McCrery’s comments on the vending trucks; as a longtime Washington resident, she is very aware of this issue when visiting the Monumental Core area. She agreed that the guidelines should address the problems of the trucks interfering with pedestrian mobility and interrupting the visual continuity along the Mall. She observed that these trucks are especially prevalent during special events and the times of year when the most tourists are present, and she asked if NCPC’s guidelines are addressing the Monumental Core’s differing issues during periods of higher or lower visitation. She added that this question could affect such topics as lighting and the treatment of paving. Ms. Dowker responded that the ebb and flow of tourist numbers is addressed in the pedestrian circulation guidelines within the subtopic of access to destinations and special events, with the intent to provide adequate space for pedestrians.
Secretary Luebke noted the Commission’s longstanding interest in the design of perimeter security, and he asked for clarification of NCPC’s decision not to include this topic in the streetscape project; Mr. McCrery agreed that this is an important question arising from the presentation. Ms. Dowker clarified that the project includes an inventory of existing perimeter security elements and a broad assessment of what is successful or unsuccessful. However, guidelines for perimeter security are not being developed because the design is very dependent on a particular location’s context and risk, which NCPC has concluded is beyond this project’s scope. Ms. Miller added that she began working on perimeter security design in 2001, and NCPC’s Urban Design and Security Plan provides a high-level framework for this issue. She said that over the decades, many lessons have been learned about designing perimeter security to avoid negative impacts on public space as much as possible, and NCPC has its own long-established policies on perimeter security. With perimeter security design already being carefully addressed, she said that the Monumental Core streetscape project does not need to provide guidelines for specific issues such as perimeter security appearance or spacing, especially because such details are so contingent on context. She said that the project’s assessment of successful and unsuccessful examples would be available for consideration by government agencies and their design consults.
Mr. Moore acknowledged that the guidelines may not need to address the specific technical details of perimeter security, but he said that this project should have a broad responsibility for the design of the vertical elements within the designated boundary for the Monumental Core. He suggested that the guidelines could at least outline and prioritize the most general security issues across the entire study area, such as whether to focus on protecting buildings, the pedestrian experience, traffic flow, or the integrity of the nationally important landscape. He said that such priorities could determine the best design solution and the extent of investment needed for different types of security measures, and these could also provide a framework for the technical site-specific decisions; the goal should be an understanding of how the city is working collectively rather than treating each site separately, as often happens with security issues. Ms. Miller reiterated that this framework is provided by the Urban Design and Security Plan, and she offered to return to the Commission for further discussion of this study. She also acknowledged that this topic was being studied in relation to the threats seen in previous decades, while the types of threats have changed in recent years; the emphasis today may focus more on protecting public space where a crowd of people may be gathered, to prevent a vehicle from driving into the crowd. She said that NCPC is currently working closely with the National Park Service and the city’s business improvement districts to consider the protection of public space, including discussions with experts. She anticipated further public discussion of these issues, and she acknowledged the ongoing problem of accumulating layers of security elements in our public space, which Mr. Moore agreed has become prevalent. Ms. Miller emphasized that NCPC is working to address this problem, particularly through its policy division, and she offered to arrange a briefing from them. Chair Tsien agreed that this work would be interesting for the Commission to see.
Mr. P. Cook commented that the result of this project should not be to establish the Monumental Core as a separate “precious precinct,” and he encouraged the careful consideration of connecting the Monumental Core to the rest of the city.
Noting that an action is not required, Secretary Luebke said that the next step is for the staff to summarize the Commission’s discussion in a comment letter, which will be circulated to the Commission and transmitted to NCPC to assist in its further development of the project. He noted that the entire project, as well as the issues highlighted by the Commission, are within a context of ongoing planning efforts that go back several decades. Chair Tsien concluded by thanking the NCP staff for its extensive work. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
D. United States Mint
CFA 17/FEB/22-3, 2023 American Liberty High Relief 24K Gold Coins and Silver Medal. Designs for 1 oz. and 1/10 oz. gold coins, and 1 oz. silver medal. Final. Secretary Luebke introduced the candidate designs for the 2023 issue of the American Liberty series. He noted that most products of the U.S. Mint, such as circulating and commemorative coins, are specifically mandated by legislation, but the biennial American Liberty coin and medal series is under a discretionary authority granted to the Secretary of the Treasury. While the submission includes a fairly large number of designs, he noted that each alternative includes a coin and medal version that are virtually identical except for changes in details such as the inscriptions. The presentation highlights the newly identified preferences of the Treasury’s Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC), a group that focuses on issues of collectability and suitability for production. He introduced April Stafford of the Mint to present the design alternatives.
Ms. Stafford summarized the continuing program of gold coins and silver medals, for which new designs are developed every two years. She said that the obverses in this series have displayed modern representations of the concept of American liberty, and the reverses have featured an American eagle; she noted the specific theme of “Liberty through perseverance” for the 2023 issue. She presented eighteen alternatives for the obverse design; the strong preference of the CCAC is obverse #2, depicting a bristlecone pine tree clinging to a rock outcropping. The bristlecone pine is native to California, Nevada, and Utah; it lives up to 5,000 years and is thought to be among the oldest living organisms on earth. Bristlecone pines grow in places where other plants cannot grow, and they are often the first species to repopulate land after cataclysmic natural events, such as a lava run or a glacial runoff. She then presented sixteen alternatives for the reverse design with an American eagle. She noted the preference of the CCAC for reverse #12, depicting a young bald eagle standing on a rocky outcropping and looking over its shoulder just before its first attempt to fly. She said the CCAC members had commented that the outcropping in this design would work well with the outcropping beneath the bristlecone pine in their preferred obverse design.
Mr. Moore concurred with the CCAC’s preferred choices. He commented that the idea of symbolizing Liberty with something other than an allegorical human figure would be a refreshing approach to this important concept. He observed that the bristlecone pine is a powerful image for representing the American landscape and the idea of perseverance, and he agreed that obverse #2 is a successful design. He said one minor comment is that the roots of the tree and the outcropping of rock appear to blur and fade into each other, making this area of the design appear somewhat unrealistic and unresolved. He also observed that the rock outcropping on reverse #12 looks different from the formation on the obverse; he suggested the two images be detailed to appear more similar.
Ms. Tsien joined in expressing support for the recommendations of the CCAC. She agreed with Mr. Moore on the importance of using images of nature and natural objects instead of allegorical representations of Lady Liberty or depictions of the Pilgrims, which are very specific and not broadly inclusive. She said that the symbols of the bristlecone pine and the young bald eagle can speak for all Americans, not just for a few.
Mr. R.M. Cook asked for further explanation of the symbolism of the old, weathered pine tree. Ms. Stafford responded that the Mint has encouraged the artists for this series to represent the idea of American liberty in ways other than the standard personification of Lady Liberty, although they are not prevented from using a traditional allegorical image. For the current submission, the artists were asked to focus on the theme of “Liberty through perseverance.” She said this particular artist selected the bristlecone pine to represent the idea that something beautiful and strong can come out of constant stress and struggle. She noted that advisory committees, particularly the CCAC, have long been urging the artists to think of liberty as something that is never complete but must be maintained through work and struggle. She asked the Mint’s chief engraver, Joe Menna, to provide a further response.
Mr. Menna said that the previous issue in the American Liberty series had featured a bucking bronco, and he thinks this tree is an effective way of continuing the idea of representing liberty through images other than the human figure. He explained the symbolism of the bristlecone pine, saying it seems impossible that a tree could exist in this environment, and yet it perseveres. He said the CCAC members were debating whether to recommend this design or some figural interpretation of liberty, and he had reminded them that they often discuss how to articulate ideas through abstract forms. He said this design is unusual in its expression of the ideas of liberty and perseverance in a purely sculptural way; he described the gnarled twisting of the tree, the foliage above, and the powerful, sculptural way its form twists upward, like a helix, into space. He observed that the Mint seldom gets the opportunity to create coins that are sculptural instead of pictorial, and he said that, speaking as a sculptor, this design presents a wonderful opportunity to create a unique coin that is large enough to convey its exceptional tactile quality. He added that the recommended reverse will complement it well, and the pairing could result in one of the most sculpturally interesting coins the Mint has produced in a long time.
Mr. R.M. Cook thanked Mr. Menna for his convincing description and agreed that the tree’s helical shape is particularly powerful. Ms. Tsien also expressed appreciation for Mr. Menna’s clear and passionate description.
Ms. Tsien and Mr. Moore reiterated their support for the pairing of obverse #2, depicting the bristlecone pine, and reverse #12, showing the young bald eagle preparing for flight. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. R.M. Cook, the Commission adopted this recommendation with the comments provided. Mr. Moore added that he has long been a collector of gold coins, and he looks forwarded to adding this coin to his collection.
Secretary Luebke said the staff will draft letters summarizing today’s reviews for circulation to the Commission members. Chair Tsien said she appreciates the thoroughness and clarity of the materials provided to the Commission. Mr. Luebke said that, as part of the process of moving to an electronic format, the staff has been modifying the format for conveying materials to the Commission, and he welcomed hearing the members’ opinions on these changes. Mr. Moore and Ms. Tsien agreed that the revised pre-meeting case materials have been improved; Dr. Edwards commented that the revised format is straightforward and makes it easy to reference previous presentations.
Secretary Luebke suggested that the Commission members consider scheduling a discussion outside of the regular meetings, noting that they had met for this purpose last summer.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 11:36 a.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA