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. Lisa Delplace
Hon. Justin Garrett Moore
Hon. Duncan Stroik
Thomas E. Luebke, Secretary
Mary Catherine Bogard
A. Approval of the minutes of the 16 June meeting. Secretary Luebke reported that the minutes of the June meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. Cook, the Commission approved the minutes. Mr. Luebke said that the minutes will be posted on the Commission’s website, and he noted that the past minutes serve as the Commission’s official record extending back to its establishment in 1910.
B. Dates of next meetings. Secretary Luebke presented the dates for upcoming Commission meetings, as previously published: 15 September, 20 October, and 17 November 2022. He noted that no meeting is scheduled in August.
C. Proposed 2023 schedule of meetings and submission deadlines for the Commission and Old Georgetown Board. Secretary Luebke presented the proposed schedule of meetings and submission deadlines for calendar year 2023. The Commission meeting dates are scheduled to be the third Thursday of each month except August and December; the meeting dates for the Old Georgetown Board would be the first Thursday of each month except January and August. He noted that this regular schedule has been checked for any conflicts with religious holidays or special events, and no adjustments are needed; if a conflict arises, the schedule could be changed. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Dr. Edwards, the Commission adopted the proposed schedule.
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 fifteen projects including one review that the Commission previously delegated to the staff. Upon a motion by Mr. Cook with second by Mr. Stroik, the Commission approved the Government Submissions Consent Calendar.
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 22-114). The unfavorable recommendation for one project has been changed to be favorable (SL 22-133), and another unfavorable recommendation has been changed to be conditionally favorable subject to revision of the proposed signs (SL 22-115). The recommendations for sixteen additional projects are subject to further coordination with the applicants, and she requested authorization to finalize these recommendations when the outstanding issues are resolved. She said that the flexibility in adopting these recommendations will allow the staff to resolve the outstanding issues prior to the Commission’s next meeting in September; she added that July is typically a busy month for Shipstead-Luce Act submissions. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Ms. Delplace, the Commission approved the revised Shipstead-Luce Act Appendix. (See agenda item II.F for an additional Shipstead-Luce Act submission.)
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Ms. Bogard reported that the only change to the draft appendix is to note the receipt of supplemental materials for one submission (case number OG 22-191); the appendix includes a total of 29 projects. Upon a motion by Mr. Cook with second by Mr. Moore, the Commission approved the revised Old Georgetown Act Appendix.
At this point, the Commission departed from the order of the agenda to consider items II.E.1, II.E.2, and II.F. Secretary Luebke said that the Commission had identified these submissions as ones that could be approved without presentations.
E. D.C. Department of General Services
1. CFA 21/JUL/22-4, Cobb Park, trapezoid parcel bounded by Massachusetts Avenue and H, 2nd, and 3rd Streets, NW. New park landscape and public artwork. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 16/JUN/22-3) Chair Tsien said that the submission is a thoughtful response to the Commission’s previous review, and she invited additional comments. Ms. Delplace suggested further study of the height and transparency of the fence that would surround the park; she suggested that the project team work with the staff on this issue. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. Cook, the Commission approved the revised concept with this comment, and with further review delegated to the staff.
2. CFA 21/JUL/22-5, Congress Heights Recreation Center, 611 Alabama Avenue, SE. New building and landscape. Concept. (Previous: CFA 16/JUL/20-4) Secretary Luebke said this submission is a substantial revision to the previously approved concept, and the new design appears to be satisfactory. Chair Tsien noted that the Commission members have no additional comments. Upon a motion by Mr. Cook with second by Dr. Edwards, the Commission approved the concept proposal. Mr. Luebke added that the proposal includes options for the facade materials, and the staff recommends Option 1; the Commission members supported this recommendation.
F. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—Shipstead-Luce Act
SL 22-122, Cotton Annex, 300 12th Street, SW. Renovation and 13-story addition. Final. (Previous: SL 21-056, January 2021) Secretary Luebke said that this large project includes rehabilitation of a historic building that was previously used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He noted the several previous reviews by the Commission, and the project team’s close coordination with the staff. Design revisions in the current proposal include relocation of the main entrance to the apartment lobby. He said that some details are still being resolved, primarily involving the selection of materials; he suggested that further review could be delegated to the staff. Upon a motion by Ms. Delplace with second by Mr. Moore, the Commission approved the proposed final design subject to resolution of the remaining issues, with completion of the final review process delegated to the staff. Ms. Batcheler noted that the Shipstead-Luce Act Appendix, approved earlier in the meeting, includes a related submission for facade rehabilitation of the historic Cotton Annex (case number SL 22-120).
The Commission returned to the order of the agenda with item II.B.
B. Smithsonian Institution
CFA 21/JUL/22-1, National Museum of the American Latino and the American Women's History Museum. Site evaluation studies for two new museums. Information Presentation. (Previous: CFA 17/MAR/22-1) Secretary Luebke introduced the Smithsonian’s second information presentation on the evaluation of potential sites for two new museums. He said the project team will provide an update on the findings of a national survey, an overview of the selection criteria, and a discussion of four focus sites selected from among the larger group of fifteen, all of which are still being considered. He summarized the comments from the previous information presentation in March 2022: the Commission emphasized consideration of developing existing buildings that are located on or near the Mall, citing such properties as the Federal Triangle buildings, the Department of Energy’s Forrestal complex, and the Department of Agriculture’s Whitten Building. He said this type of investigation will likely recur, citing the recent legislative authorization of a commission to study the creation of a National Museum of Asian Pacific American History and Culture, which may result in the need to identify an additional museum site in the near future. He said the Smithsonian will return in September to share its findings on additional analysis of this shorter site list, including massing studies. He asked Ronald Cortez, the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for Administration, to begin the presentation.
Mr. Cortez said the advisory council has been established for the new American Women’s History Museum; in recent months, this council has developed site selection recommendations for the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents and has toured the leading sites. Similarly, the Smithsonian regents and the board of the new National Museum of the American Latino toured the sites during the spring.
Mr. Cortez said that the current phase of the site evaluation study is to seek additional written comments from the Commission and the other reviewers named in the enabling legislation; these comments will be incorporated into the site evaluation report to the Board of Regents, which will be used for final site selection for both museums. The next tasks include contacting the leaders of federal agencies with jurisdiction over these sites to discuss the possibility of acquisition; analyzing a small group of focus sites in greater depth; refining the planning-level programs for use in massing studies to inform evaluations of the type and size of buildings that could be constructed on each site; and preparing cost estimates for relocation of federal offices where applicable, including the cost of developing new sites for these offices. He said the project team will return to the Commission in September to present the completed massing studies and further analysis.
Mr. Cortez presented a map illustrating the evaluation process, which began with a long list of possible sites. He noted that one addition has been made since the previous presentation, a site on the east side of the Tidal Basin; this site was a suggestion offered by a member of the public, which he said demonstrates that the project team is open to feedback during the selection process. He introduced architect Luanne Greene of Ayers Saint Gross to present the criteria used in the site evaluation.
Ms. Greene said the evaluation has relied on six high-level criteria to understand the sites; each criterion has multiple sub-criteria that are weighted to reflect the critical, important, or desirable characteristics for a site. For example, with the category of location in proximity to the Mall, the sub-criteria consider the prominence or visibility of the site, its significance to constituent groups, its potential for visitation or proximity to existing Smithsonian museums, and the preservation of key views and sightlines.
Mr. Cortez observed that no site is perfect—each involves the need to balance pros and cons. He said the four focus sites include three that were named in the enabling legislation: the Arts & Industries Building (AIB); the Northwest Capitol site; and the South Monument site, opposite the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). He said the AIB, the only site currently under Smithsonian jurisdiction, possesses key advantages for housing a new museum, particularly its central location on the Mall in one of Washington’s most distinctive historic buildings. He said that although its historic character presents challenges that would require some modifications, it remains a very promising candidate. The Northwest Capitol site, located on Pennsylvania Avenue within the U.S. Capitol Grounds at the eastern end of the Mall, is currently under the jurisdiction of the Architect of the Capitol, and it could accommodate a museum at its east end. Its challenges include its location within a floodplain, along with the other Mall sites, as well as the physical security measures required for the Capitol Grounds, which are under review. The South Monument site occupies a prominent location near the Washington Monument, on the south side of the Mall opposite the NMAAHC; however, its location within the Reserve prohibits new construction, and the site is unusually small, about a third the size of the NMAAHC site. The new fourth site under consideration, on the east side of the Tidal Basin, is also on a prominent location near the Washington Monument, immediately west of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. He said this site is also located in the Reserve, and analysis suggests that a building here would need to be carefully positioned to avoid the floodplain and the historic Japanese cherry trees to its south; however, the project team believes this site is large enough to accommodate either of the planned museums.
Mr. Cortez said the project team has recently completed a national survey to help refine its site selection criteria. The survey included panels and outreach groups; he said panels are more statistically reliable, while outreach groups were selected from databases and the e-mail addresses of people who had expressed interest in a particular museum. Some of the panels reflected national demographics generally, while others were weighted to indicate the opinions of particular demographic groups. The results of all surveys suggest a preference for locating the museums on the Mall, with no difference between the two museums; the only significant difference was that Latino groups had more affinity for cultural and festival events. Both groups of respondents were open to having the museums located within a renovated building, although they requested more information before committing to a position on this question. He said the next presentation to the Commission in September will provide more information about the concerns of the federal agencies with jurisdiction over the non-Smithsonian sites; this presentation will also address the feedback of external stakeholders and other consultants, and it will include further information on architectural programming for the site evaluation, such as massing studies, vistas, and cost.
Chair Tsien invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Acknowledging the considerable effort required for this study, Mr. Moore noted the recent discussion of a possible future museum on the nation’s Asian and Pacific American heritage. He asked whether the prospect of a third museum has been considered in this site identification process, and if this additional museum would also be seeking a site located on or near the Mall. Ann Trowbridge, assistant director for planning at the Smithsonian, responded that when a study is initiated for a new museum, an independent commission is appointed to consider basic questions, including whether the proposal is viable, whether it should be part of the Smithsonian Institution, and whether it should be located in Washington. She said that such studies ordinarily take about two years, and the independent commission would likely consult with both the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission. The Smithsonian would wait for the results of such a study before beginning consideration of a site.
Mr. Moore observed that in March 2022, the Commission members had indicated interest in site 3, the Whitten Building of the Department of Agriculture, and also sites 6 and 7, which correspond to two of the buildings in the Forrestal complex of the Department of Energy. He asked why these had not been included on the short list being presented today. Mr. Cortez responded that none of the sites have been eliminated from consideration, but the study process involves an increasingly more detailed focus on a smaller number of sites. He said the four selected sites were chosen because they are on or immediately adjacent to the Mall and, with the exception of the AIB site, they are vacant. He added that although the Whitten Building has many advantages, its design as an office building would likely constrain its use as a museum. Ms. Greene said its structure presents challenges, such as a relatively low floor-to-floor height; she added that, while its location is spectacular, none of the constituent groups found its architecture appealing.
Mr. Cook expressed concerns about the four sites, noting that each presents significant issues. He acknowledged the challenges associated with using the historic AIB to house a modern museum, and also the challenges of the exceedingly small South Monument site, where setbacks for security and for alignment with other Mall buildings would result in a tiny area of buildable land, likely requiring a considerable amount of expensive below-grade construction to create a viable museum. He noted the security issues presented by the Northwest Capitol site and the presence of a highway tunnel below part of the site; he questioned whether Congress would ever allow a building to be constructed there, and whether this site could actually be considered viable for a large museum building. Finally, he questioned whether the Tidal Basin site, located within the Reserve, was ever intended to be built upon. He said these issues have led the Commission members to suggest that there may be other viable sites, such as the Whitten and Forrestal Buildings. Mr. Cortez responded that all these issues are being considered as the project team consults with various agencies; he emphasized that it is the project team’s opinion that these four particular sites warrant further consideration, even though the others have not yet been eliminated. He said the feedback has been consistent, while the project team remains open to serious consideration of comments, as evidenced by the recent inclusion of the Tidal Basin site.
Ms. Delplace observed that the AIB site has many positive qualities, such as its proximity to public transit, including a nearby Metro station. While acknowledging the difficulty of fitting a new museum within the AIB’s historic structure, she emphasized that its strong qualities of prominence and adjacency to the Mall, along with the public’s desire to have a museum site near outdoor space, make a strong case for the AIB. She concluded that this site warrants closer examination, and she agreed that the other sites are somewhat problematic. Mr. Cortez assured the Commission that the project team is giving due consideration to the AIB for its historic building and its location on the Mall next to the Smithsonian Castle.
Chair Tsien said she assumes the new commission studying an Asian Pacific American museum will consult with the current site evaluation group; she observed that unless the work is coordinated, a sense of overall planning of museums in the Monumental Core could become lost, with each museum pushing its own independent agenda. Mr. Cortez said the site evaluation group will be coordinating and sharing information with the new commission for an Asian Pacific American museum.
Ms. Tsien said she is impressed that the public is open to the idea of reusing existing buildings, demonstrating that people are becoming increasingly aware that new construction contributes to many sustainability problems. She commented that existing non-museum buildings, such as at the Forrestal complex, could still be viable candidates for new museums through the use of interventions or additions; although they do not immediately present themselves as being the correct building type or having the right massing for a museum, they should still be considered. Mr. Moore agreed, emphasizing that the Whitten and Forrestal buildings should be included with the four focus sites and should receive the same level of investigation into their feasibility. Ms. Trowbridge noted the determination that the buildings of the Forrestal complex are ineligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places; the existing buildings would therefore be demolished if a Forrestal site were selected, to allow for construction of a new museum building. She added that the design of a new building at this location would need to acknowledge the historic diagonal alignment of Virginia Avenue through the site, as suggested in the 2013 Southwest Ecodistrict Plan.
Mr. Moore said the Forrestal site presents an opportunity for repairing fabric at the urban scale through new development that would be at the center of the broader Smithsonian museum campus; he reiterated that this site deserves serious consideration. Ms. Trowbridge said the challenge for the Forrestal and Whitten sites is that they would involve relocating large federal agencies, with added costs and a huge delay to completion of a new museum; she added that these federal agencies also enjoy their prominent existing locations. Mr. Cortez agreed, noting again that all sites present difficulties and none are perfect. He thanked the Commission on behalf of the Smithsonian for providing dialogue to help this process. Chair Tsien said the Commission will provide its written comments. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
C. National Park Service / Virginia Passenger Rail Authority / D.C. Department of Transportation
CFA 21/JUL/22-2, Long Bridge Project, new railroad and pedestrian bridges between Virginia and the District of Columbia. Concept. (Previous: CFA 19/MAY/22-1) Secretary Luebke introduced the concept design for the Long Bridge Project, a series of proposed bridges and embankments along the 1.8-mile-long infrastructure complex between Virginia and the District of Columbia that is intended to provide additional railroad capacity by creating a four-track rail line. The project was seen by the Commission in May 2022 as an information presentation. Comments provided at that time included the overall guidance that the project be considered a work of civic art; that the stone-clad walls be beautiful on their own; that the bridge piers appear substantial enough to support the weight of the railroad deck; and that the experience of users be prioritized in the design of the new pedestrian and bicyclist bridge across the Potomac River. He said the design has since been revised in the following ways: the stone cladding of the piers now extends upward to bracket parts of the bridge structure; the upstream faces of the new river piers would be battered; the detailing at the intersection of the plate girder decks with the abutments has been refined; and the color of the pedestrian bridge would now be dark brown to help it recede visually. He noted the project team’s assurance that the proposal still has flexibility for aesthetic refinements, although the engineering decisions about the basic bridge types have been finalized. He asked Peter May, associate regional director for lands and planning at the National Park Service, to begin the presentation.
Mr. May said the National Park Service has been working closely with the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA) in developing the design. He noted the massive scale of the project’s physical components as well as its potential effects on parkland and waterways; however, the project would also have great benefits, including a new pedestrian bridge that would connect several national parks and provide an option for those seeking alternative ways to commute between Virginia and Washington. He introduced Shirlene Cleveland, senior director of the Long Bridge Project at VPRA, to present the concept design. Ms. Cleveland said the Commission’s previous comments have been incorporated into the design with the assistance of Daniel Tarantino, a bridge architect with the engineering firm Hardesty & Hanover, who has been added to the project team and will assist with the presentation.
Ms. Cleveland said the project scope for the railroad corridor extends from the Long Bridge Aquatic Center in Arlington to approximately 12th Street, SW, in Washington. The new rail bridge would be constructed adjacent to the existing CSX rail bridge, providing expanded capacity; the new pedestrian bridge is included as a mitigation measure for the rail project. The proposal is part of a larger regional initiative to provide additional passenger rail service to Richmond, Virginia, and the new tracks would also be interoperable with freight train traffic. The pedestrian bridge would be sited between the new bridge and the existing Metrorail bridge and would span the Potomac to connect the George Washington Memorial Parkway (GWMP) and West and East Potomac Parks. She said the project was initiated in 2011 and is currently in the preliminary engineering phase (15%).
Ms. Cleveland said the design intent for each section of the new bridge and embankment complex is to be compatible with the character of each area without replicating the design of the historic structures. At the GWMP, the stone cladding of the bridge abutments would be composed of brown, gray, and blue stones set in a random ashlar; in other areas of the project, the cladding would be a larger-sized grey stone ashlar. The pedestrian bridge would be a prefabricated truss span supported by single concrete piers with concrete caps; interpretive signs about the history of Long Bridge could also be placed on this bridge. The railroad bridge deck at the GWMP and the river crossing would be a through-plate girder of weathering steel; other bridge segments to the east would use this configuration where possible, although steel deck girders would be used in the locations where bridges will be shared with CSX due to the complicated phasing required to maintain train traffic during construction. She added that the proposal would also restore the historic landscape plans in East and West Potomac Parks.
Mr. Tarantino presented the refinements to the design, emphasizing that the architectural language and character are intended to relate the separate components of the project to one another. He said the primary architectural feature of the bridges would be the weathering steel of the railroad deck, which would be complimented by the stone described by Ms. Cleveland. The pedestrian bridge would connect to the Mount Vernon Trail, an existing recreation trail along the Virginia riverfront; he noted that the trail is heavily used in this area. The structural members of the bridges are designed to be open, with the length of the walls kept to a minimum. Ms. Cleveland presented photo simulations of the proposed bridges as seen from several locations in the area of the GWMP and Mount Vernon Trail, indicating the ramp and stairs that would connect the trail to the new pedestrian bridge.
Mr. Tarantino said that as the new rail bridge crosses the river, the changed setting would be reflected in its architectural character. The proposed piers would be similar in scale and character to the existing Long Bridge piers, visually emulating their structural robustness with quarry-faced stone ashlar cladding and a bush-hammered granite coping. The upstream face of the piers would be battered, and the downstream side would have a more vertical, rounded edge. Ms. Cleveland presented several images of the pedestrian bridge, indicating the concrete piers that would support the prefabricated truss.
Mr. Tarantino said the rail crossing in East Potomac Park adjacent to Interstate 395 presents a unique opportunity because of its length. The original intention was to simply have the steel deck structure span the interstate; however, in response to the Commission’s previous advice, the cladding of the piers has been extended upward in a pilaster-like detail. He said this refined sawn-face stone detail is intended to allude to the classical architectural character of Washington. The character of the bridge would again change as it crosses over Ohio Drive, SW: the two steel spans would be topped with concrete parapets, and the abutments and retaining walls would be clad in a smaller-scale stone ashlar to establish a hierarchy and relate to the scale of the vegetation. The treatment of the spans over the Washington Channel and Maine Avenue would be similar, and he summarized the general design intent to minimize the scale of this large structure.
Ms. Cleveland presented renderings of the previously described retaining wall and landscape treatments for each section of the project, indicating the plantings that are proposed to screen most of the walls. She noted that the width of the sidewalk below the Maine Avenue bridge would be increased from 11.5’ to 25’. She said the existing pedestrian bridge owned by the Portals development would be demolished because of its proximity to the proposed rail bridge; the project team is working with the owner to develop a barrier-free design for a replacement bridge. She also noted that the retaining wall along the Portals development would be clad with stone or concrete in a smoother finish than the other walls to be more in character with the context.
Chair Tsien thanked the project team for the presentation. She said the proposed architectural design is a very thoughtful attempt to represent the power of the new infrastructure. She described the river piers of the new railroad bridge as beautifully detailed, and she recommended that the stone cladding be substantially thick to stand up to the tough riverine conditions. She expressed strong support for the proposal to have granite bases for the piers in several sections of the project, which she said would give the powerful image of substantial concrete columns coming down to sit on the granite bases. While acknowledging previous comments from the Commission and expressing appreciation for a serious desire to celebrate and support the tectonic massiveness of the project, she said she is not in favor of the proposed pilaster detail, which appears thin, decorative, and applied—and is not expressive of the actual structure of the bridge.
Ms. Tsien said she has a strong interest in the proposed stone and the conceptual idea of the power of infrastructure, and she suggested further refinement of the piers’ battering detail. Mr. Tarantino said he believes additional dimension could be added to the battering detail on the upstream sides of the river piers; Ms. Cleveland agreed. Civil engineer Mark Colgan, vice president and regional transportation director at VHB, clarified that Ms. Tsien is asking about the downstream sides of the piers; he said that in response to the Commission’s review in May, both the upstream and downstream sides of the piers would be battered to match the historic Long Bridge piers, but that this may not be shown clearly in the renderings. He said the battering would match the historic piers by having a more pronounced batter on the upstream side to deflect debris, and a shallower batter on the downstream side; he acknowledged that the downstream side appears vertical in the renderings. Ms. Tsien expressed support for this revision.
Mr. Tarantino responded to Ms. Tsien’s comments regarding the pilaster detail, commenting that the pilasters are intended to break up the linearity of the railroad deck and reference the historic bridges; he agreed the pilasters would benefit from refinement, perhaps by increasing their size and better integrating them into the piers below. He said the design team could also study other ways to introduce verticality and break up the horizontality of the steel deck. Mr. Colgan noted that the width of the pilasters is constrained by the dimensions of the piers and the roadway median. Secretary Luebke said the Commission could provide guidance on whether the pilasters should be kept in the design, with consideration of these constraints and the dominant horizontal character of the weathered steel deck. He said the staff agrees that the pilasters as presented seem only to draw attention to themselves and create a structurally confused image.
Ms. Delplace commented that the design team must accept that this project would introduce a major piece of infrastructure. She agreed that the pilasters look applied to the face of the bridge deck and do not have the integrity of serving a purpose, making them feel unnecessary. She expressed support for incorporating details from the existing historic structures, while observing that they unfortunately do not offer much to work with; she recommended seeking a solution that has some integrity to the conceptual and structural foundations of the bridge. Mr. Moore agreed, suggesting simplification of the piers to work better with the integrity of the bridge, and he requested further study of this detail. Mr. Cook also agreed, commenting that he is not concerned with the horizontality of the span and does not believe it needs to be mitigated by a pilaster detail. He said an admirably consistent language has been developed for the new structures, and this pilaster detail has a “one-off” character that makes it feel out of place.
Ms. Delplace expressed appreciation for the intention to incorporate some of the character of the historic landscape into the design. However, she observed that in historic photographs the landscape is characterized by allées of canopy trees, serving to visually connect the corridor while allowing train passengers to see out beneath the canopies. She said the proposed linear planting of trees of several different species would not be consistent with the historic condition; more importantly, the trees would obscure the retaining walls, which have been diligently designed and would have real stone cladding. She suggested planting massings of canopy trees rather than the proposed linear arrangement of shrubs, flowering trees, and canopy trees along the tracks. She said this would be more successful in breaking up the mass of the substantial retaining walls while still allowing the beautiful granite stone to be visible; she noted that this massing strategy for plantings is used throughout most of the GWMP.
Mr. Stroik thanked Ms. Delplace for her thoughtful comments on the tree plantings, and he complimented the design team for its use of stone cladding, which he described as beautiful. He said when he thinks of parkways, he thinks of stone more than any other material, and he asked if the exposed concrete piers proposed where the spans would cross the medians of several roadways could also be clad in stone. He said natural stone is humanizing and should be used as much as possible, and he expressed concern that concrete is out of place in the palette of stone and steel.
Mr. Stroik observed that the Commission seems supportive of the pilaster details on the new spans within the GWMP, which he said appear to actually support or buttress the arched rail deck to create a gateway; he asked if the Commission members could support the use of this more articulated detail instead of the one that was criticized as being thin and applied. He also asked if the steel rail decks on the other spans could be arched. Ms. Cleveland and Mr. Colgan confirmed that this had been studied for the span crossing I-395, and the findings could be presented if desired. Mr. May said the presented design approach is the preference of the National Park Service and is the result of the ongoing historic preservation review process. He said it is important to the National Park Service that the new spans within the GWMP be consistent with the GWMP’s historic rail bridge. However, the character of the GWMP is significantly different from West and East Potomac Parks, where the most appropriate solution would be a simpler approach of a long steel span supported by individual round concrete columns.
Secretary Luebke observed that the proposed GWMP pilasters appear to extend higher and are deeper than those proposed for the I-395 crossing. Mr. Tarantino said the detailing could be studied and perhaps be more robust at the I-395 crossing; he added that the pier bases would be granite. Mr. Stroik expressed support for the granite bases, while reiterating that he would like to see the concrete piers clad with stone to have a more consistent palette of materials. Mr. Tarantino noted that the rail bridge structure over I-395 has closely spaced beams with shallow projections that do not offer the same opportunities to vary the structural form as in the GWMP bridges. Nonetheless, he acknowledged that the I-395 pilasters look like they were added very late in the design process, and he said they could be refined to be more cohesive. Mr. Stroik also asked if the new bridges could include locations with openings or symbols on cast stone panels to represent Virginia and the District of Columbia, as well as to emphasize the gateway character of the bridges. Mr. Tarantino said these revisions could be considered.
Chair Tsien asked whether a formal action is needed. Secretary Luebke said the project has been submitted for concept approval; if the Commission members are in support of the general design approach, such as the alignments, materials, and character of the project, then the specific issues raised during the review could be addressed as part of an approval action. He asked the Commission members to clarify their position on the pilaster detail for the I-395 span. Mr. Cook said the vertical pier extensions look unnecessary, but he would like to see further study of them. Mr. Stroik said he would support a recommendation to study the extensions, noting that they were the subject of much discussion. Ms. Cleveland said she thought the Commission had said previously that there was too much unbroken steel on the I-395 span; she asked if the Commission is requesting further study of breaking up the span’s horizontality or if the detail should be eliminated from the design. Ms. Tsien said she believes the Commission is questioning the pasted-on character of the pilasters, especially when compared to the other areas with stone cladding, which are interesting, inventive, and have a large degree of integrity. She said the pilasters should be designed to feel more necessary or integrated into the design, or else they should be eliminated.
Secretary Luebke observed that a majority of the Commission members appears to recommend eliminating the pilasters at the I-395 span; Chair Tsien agreed with this conclusion, and she suggested approving the concept with this recommendation and with the comments provided. Upon a motion by Mr. Cook with second by Dr. Edwards, the Commission adopted this action.
D. D.C. Department of Transportation
CFA 21/JUL/22-3, K Street Transitway Project, K Street, NW, between 12th and 21st Streets, NW. Roadway reconfiguration and landscape improvements. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the infrastructure proposal for the redesign of a mile-long corridor of K Street, NW, that is lined with large office buildings and several hotels. The project is intended to improve the running time for buses along this major transit corridor by separating them from general traffic, and to provide additional benefits for bicyclists and pedestrians. The proposal is to reconfigure the street section between the outer curbs, allocating the central lanes for buses with pedestrian boarding zones alongside; general traffic would be limited to the outer lanes along the north and south sides of the street. This design would replace the current configuration of mixed traffic in the center lanes, along with separated outer lanes at the north and south that accommodate right turns and access to the buildings and parking garages. Planting areas within new center islands would contribute to stormwater management and provide a semi-continuous tree canopy; he said the design is comparable to the current configuration that provides four rows of mature street trees, but the new design would result in smaller trees and more infrastructure elements toward the center of the roadway.
Mr. Luebke asked project manager Wayne Wilson of the D.C. Department of Transportation to begin the presentation. Mr. Wilson described this as a large, important project that will change the appearance of K Street; the current submission is at the 65-percent design stage. For the design presentation, he introduced engineer Gerard Baxter of Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson, landscape architect Adrienne McCray of Lee & Associates, and engineer Adrienne Ameel of Kimley-Horn.
Mr. Baxter provided an overview of the project area along K Street, NW. The transitway would terminate on the west at 21st Street, just before reaching Washington Circle; on the east it would terminate at 12th Street, several blocks west of Mount Vernon Square and the Carnegie Library. Three existing parks are located along this corridor—Farragut Square, McPherson Square, and Franklin Park—and the remainder of the corridor is lined with dense commercial development. This segment of K Street has a high volume of bus traffic along with many pedestrians, and it includes the Farragut North Metro station.
Mr. Baxter said the project would remove the existing separated service lanes on the outer edges of K Street, and instead create two transit lanes along the center of the street, with one lane in each direction. The pair of medians defining these lanes would have landscaping and bus boarding areas. On the outer side of these medians would be a pair of bicycle lanes, one in each direction, and then two lanes in each direction for general vehicular traffic. At some blocks, the south edge of K Street would also include a curb lane for parking and loading. Alongside the three parks, where the street right-of-way is constricted, the medians would become narrower and would not have trees.
Mr. Baxter indicated where bus stops would be located along the corridor, with four stops for each direction of travel. He said these locations have been coordinated with Metro and the D.C. Department of Transportation to facilitate connections between bus routes, and improvement projects on the cross-streets would also help to improve bus operations. Each bus stop would have a 130-foot-long boarding platform within the 11-foot-wide median; the length would accommodate two articulated buses. The curb height would be ten inches, higher than the standard seven inches, to allow for easier boarding of the buses; the curbs would be granite, consistent with the standard specified by the D.C. Department of Transportation. The pavement would be concrete, colored light gray in the pedestrian zone and dark gray in other areas. He indicated the benches and covered bus shelters; tree pits would have iron grate covers. As in the current configuration, pedestrian access to the medians would be from crosswalks at the street intersections; the crosswalks are designed for high visibility, and ramps would be provided at the medians to reach the bus boarding areas. Traffic signals would include separate controls for the bus lanes, general traffic, and pedestrians. He indicated the bicycle lanes, which would be protected from traffic; two-stage turn box markings at the intersections would allow bicyclists to move with general traffic. Sidewalks would be upgraded, and the 100 streetlights along this corridor would be the Twin-20 type that is standard in the downtown area.
Ms. McCray presented details of the proposed landscape and streetscape treatment, intended to enhance the visual quality and experience for people using the corridor. The design includes consistent materials, improved accessibility, and space for outdoor amenities that would help to activate the public realm. She indicated the typical locations near the curb for tree pits, streetlights, benches, and bicycle racks. The clear zone for pedestrian circulation would generally have a minimum width of ten feet, although it would need to be narrower in some locations. Along the building faces, a building amenity zone would be available for public space activation by the adjacent property owners. The material for the sidewalks would be standard London pavers; charcoal-gray pavers would be used along the tree pit zone. She noted that different streetscape materials have been installed by the owners of some adjacent properties; these would remain if they are in good condition.
Ms. McCray said that a design goal is to have the appearance of a green street. Where feasible along the sidewalks, existing street trees would remain, and tree boxes would be expanded for improved tree health. New street trees would be planted to fill gaps; the new trees would be consistent with the existing character of large canopy trees, and the specific selection is being coordinated with the D.C. Urban Forestry Division. Trees in the existing medians would be removed, and new trees would be planted in the relocated medians; the planting locations are being coordinated with the locations of existing below-grade utility lines that will remain. To the extent feasible, the medians are being designed for low-impact development; stormwater runoff from the roadways would drain into the tree pits, which would be sunken unless constrained by utilities. Except at the bus boarding areas, the plantings would occupy the full width of the medians; the trees would be medium size with a columnar shape to avoid conflicts with large vehicles passing alongside, and other plantings include groundcover and shrubs.
Ms. Ameel presented a comparison of existing condition photographs with perspective views of the proposed design from the same vantage points, looking toward the eastern and western ends of the corridor; she noted that the trees are drawn at their mature size. She concluded the presentation with a timeline for the project, with the design to be completed later this year and construction planned for 2023 to 2026. She noted that an additional public meeting is planned after completion of the final design.
Chair Tsien invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Ms. Delplace asked about the width of the K Street right-of-way; Mr. Baxter said that the proposed transitway width is generally 100 to 110 feet between the outer curbs, but at the three parks it narrows to approximately 70 feet. Ms. Delplace observed that the project appears to assume that the existing sidewalk widths should remain; Mr. Baxter confirmed that the existing curb alignment would be kept in order to accommodate the high volume of pedestrians on the sidewalks; the lanes for general traffic and buses, including bus turn lanes, would be accommodated within the existing curb-to-curb width. He said that a ten-foot-wide clear zone for sidewalks would be provided where feasible; an example of a more constrained location is along the north side of Farragut Square, where the ten-foot sidewalk width would have to include street furniture such as streetlights and trash cans.
Ms. Delplace observed the very narrow width of some medians appears insufficient for pedestrians. Mr. Baxter confirmed that some medians would be only two feet wide, and generally the medians are not intended for pedestrian occupancy except at the bus boarding areas, which would only have access from the crosswalks; the remaining median areas would have landscaping and bioretention. Trees would be provided as part of the landscape of the wider medians, but not along the narrower medians. Ms. Delplace commented that the right-of-way width between building facades is quite large; she suggested providing a continuous tree canopy along the medians for the length of the corridor, rather than having a wide paved expanse of space devoted to vehicles in some areas.
Mr. Wilson clarified that the narrower medians are along the three parks, where the street right-of-way is less wide; at these locations, the parks occupy the south frontage of K Street. He noted that these parks are under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, which results in regulatory protection from widening the roadway into the parkland. The narrower medians proposed at these locations allow for accommodating the transportation needs without encroaching on the park properties. He emphasized that the remainder of the corridor would have wider medians that would be planted with trees, which is an important feature of the project. Ms. Delplace reiterated her general concern that K Street feels uncomfortable because of its great width, a problem that could be worsened by this project; she expressed appreciation for the extent of green space that is included in the proposal. She asked about the configuration of the tree planting areas. Ms. McCray confirmed that the medians would have continuous planted panels; at the bus boarding areas, where hardscape surfaces are needed, structural soil would be used below the paving.
Mr. Stroik asked whether this type of transitway has been used elsewhere, and why it would be an improvement compared to the existing conditions, particularly for bus operations. Mr. Baxter responded that the project’s primary goal is to improve bus operations, which would be achieved by giving them dedicated lanes to provide faster travel times through the corridor. He said that this will improve reliability, which will have beneficial effects throughout the bus network. Another major benefit of the project is to provide protected bicycle lanes along the corridor. Additional benefits include the streetscape design that will improve the corridor’s appearance and provide a sense of place. He said that comparable projects would include various types of bus rapid transit. Ms. McCray added that hundreds of similar projects are located throughout the country; the nearest example is the West End Transitway being constructed in Arlington and Alexandria, with its first phase completed. She noted that the proposal for K Street is a transitway, which has different features than a bus rapid transit system. She said that aside from faster and more reliable bus operations, an additional benefit of this project will be to improve travel times for general traffic by eliminating the congestion that is currently caused by buses making frequent stops in the general-use lanes along K Street.
Mr. Stroik observed that K Street’s current configuration includes some areas for drop-off and parking; he asked whether designated areas would be provided for these activities, along with taxis and ride-share services. Ms. Ameel responded that curbside uses would only be accommodated on some of the block frontages due to the constraints of the K Street right-of-way; these locations would be on the south side of the street, including pick-up and drop-off, commercial loading, and a few locations for metered parking spaces. These uses would not be accommodated along the blocks with park frontages. She said the D.C. Department of Transportation is working with ride-sharing companies to move their pick-up and drop-off to designated areas on the side streets instead of along K Street. Mr. Wilson added that this relocation is being coordinated with the two Business Improvement Districts that include parts of the corridor.
Based on her recent experience driving along K Street, Dr. Edwards described the corridor as “chaotic,” with dangerous interactions between buses, bicyclists, and pedestrians, as well as confusing navigation for drivers to make turns from the service lanes. She said that the proposed redesign, although not necessarily the best solution, would be a vast improvement compared to the existing conditions for the corridor’s several user groups. She expressed support for providing protected bicycle lanes, which she anticipated will become more prevalent throughout the city in conjunction with an increase in bicycling. She asked if the proposed streetlights would provide sufficient lighting at the pedestrian scale, particularly at the bus boarding areas and the bicycle lanes. Mr. Baxter responded that the lighting levels for the bicycle lanes would be consistent with those of the vehicular lanes, and this will be calculated as part of a photometric analysis. He said the Twin-20 streetlights would be used throughout the corridor, including at the bus boarding areas; the only exception would be teardrop fixtures on the poles having traffic signals.
Dr. Edwards asked whether signage along the corridor is being considered. She observed that the proposed street design is generally simpler than the existing configuration and would not need complicated signage directing drivers to the service lanes for right turns; however, signage may be needed to direct pedestrians from the sidewalks to the bus loading areas. Mr. Baxter responded that the project includes a signing plan that addresses all of the regulatory and guide signs; the goal is to minimize the amount of signage while providing the extensive messaging that is needed. Ms. Ameel said that the corridor would have standard signs and striping to convey information; special pylons at the bus boarding areas would serve as additional markers to identify these locations.
Dr. Edwards asked whether buses would turn from the corridor onto the side streets or continue beyond the ends of the corridor; Ms. Ameel responded that a variety of routes would use parts of the corridor. Left-turn lanes for buses would be provided at some intersections. She noted that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is currently conducting a broad review of its bus network, which may result in routing changes that affect this corridor. Mr. Baxter said that the intent is to encourage bus routes that use the full length of this project’s corridor, with fewer routes turning into or out of the corridor. He added that left turns would be prohibited at most intersections; this restriction would allow for buses, bicyclists, and general traffic to proceed simultaneously through the intersections. He acknowledged that accommodating the separate types of traffic would become problematic as they merge at each end of the corridor, which will be addressed by the traffic signal phasing.
Chair Tsien expressed appreciation for the clear presentation. She suggested a consensus to approve the concept with the comments that have been provided, including a desire to soften the existing harshness of K Street. With no Commission member making a motion to approve the proposal, Mr. Stroik said this might indicate more extensive concerns with the project. Mr. Cook said that he shares the concerns expressed by Dr. Edwards; while he does not have major objections to the proposal or its functionality, he said that it is uninspiring. Dr. Edwards encouraged him to formulate a motion; Mr. Cook requested further response from the Commission members on whether they support the project. Mr. Stroik asked Dr. Edwards if her concerns are sufficient to request an extensive revision to the design; she said that her concerns are not major.
Mr. Cook expressed agreement with Dr. Edwards’s observation that the existing conditions along K Street are problematic for drivers and pedestrians. He recalled that the redesign of the corridor has been underway for many years and was previously much broader in scope. He asked why the project has now been truncated to stop short of Washington Circle on the west and Mount Vernon Square on the east, observing that this constrained scope has made the project less relevant to the wider city. Ms. Ameel confirmed that a previous study had analyzed a streetcar line that would extend from Georgetown on the west to Union Station on the east; due to concerns with that proposal, the current project has been truncated at each end and proposes a transitway rather than a streetcar line. She added that the current project does not preclude the implementation of a streetcar in the future.
Mr. Stroik asked why the streetcar is no longer part of this project, observing that streetcars are attractive features in other cities. Mr. Wilson responded that the earlier problems with the streetcar planning included the potential introduction of overhead catenary lines to power the streetcars, the difficulty of relocating the utilities beneath K Street to accommodate the streetcar construction, and the broader problems of the project’s high cost, large scope, and lengthy timeline. Secretary Luebke clarified that overhead catenary lines are prohibited in central Washington, and they were therefore not part of the past proposal for streetcars along this corridor; the streetcar would have required a battery or underground power source to operate for this part of its route. A bigger question was whether streetcars would be the best solution for K Street. He noted that the decision after the past study was not to pursue a streetcar route along this corridor.
Ms. Delplace acknowledged that the past planning for this corridor may be causing the reluctance of the Commission members to support the current proposal. She observed that the current transitway proposal is addressing K Street in isolation, without considering the impact on the cross streets and parallel streets, including the bicycle lanes and parking restrictions on those streets. While expressing appreciation for the effort to design a streetscape that is greener, more pedestrian-friendly, and supports the growth of shade trees, she expressed frustration that the Commission is being asked to make a major decision on this segment of K Street without a broader understanding of the planning for the wider context. She suggested that future presentations include more information on the project’s background and wider context.
Mr. Cook agreed, observing that the transitway project would provide some benefits within the project area but has not been presented in relation to the surrounding city. As an example, he asked whether channeling buses into the proposed transit lanes would require more people to transfer between routes along this corridor. Mr. Wilson responded that the broader issue of optimizing people’s movement by different transportation modes is being coordinated among multiple agencies, including consideration of the parallel bus routes along H and I Streets. The project’s endpoints at 12th Street and 21st Street have been selected with consideration of convenient transfers between the various bus providers and routes serving the area, and the traffic flow at the endpoints has been addressed. The design of the bicycle lanes, as well as their connections to other parts of the bicycle network, has been coordinated with the region’s bicycling group. Public meetings and workshops have also been held that addressed issues such as parking and the needs of local businesses. He said that unlike the past streetcar planning, the current transitway proposal has a manageable scope and would be feasible to implement within a reasonable timeframe; he emphasized the importance of evolving the past planning into a realistic project.
Robyn Jackson, deputy program manager at the D.C. Department of Transportation for Wards One and Two, responded that the earlier vision was a 32-mile streetcar system that would provide transit through much of the city; however, this has not been feasible to implement in a timely manner, and the city-wide priority has shifted to improved bus service. She said that the proposed K Street Transitway would provide significantly improved transit on a fast schedule, addressing a need within this area and contributing to a growing city-wide network of bus priority lanes marked with red pavement; nearby examples of bus priority lanes are on H, I, and 16th Streets. While the presentation has focused on improvements for K Street, she emphasized that the proposal has been developed with consideration of the city’s entire bus network. She also reiterated the earlier comment that the transitway project does not preclude a future streetcar line in this area.
Chair Tsien expressed appreciation for the project team’s responses. Acknowledging her limited familiarity with local conditions, she offered the general observation that improving a particular area can be beneficial in itself, whereas trying to coordinate improvements across many areas may be unrealistic and unnecessary. She said that the project team has conveyed the effort to consider multiple constituencies in developing the proposal; although limited, this proposal could provide the basis for being extended to a wider area.
Mr. Moore said he would defer to the Washington-area members of the Commission concerning the specific local issues. He said that New York City has implemented comparable projects for bus rapid transit, and he noted a nationwide effort to redesign street rights-of-way for better use by transit and pedestrians. Based on this broader perspective, he concluded that some improvement would be worthwhile to attempt, even for this limited segment of roadway. He said the project would be a positive step, and he observed that the corridor could be further improved in the future based on city-wide study or if problems arise after implementation of the current proposal. He offered to support the design as proposed, subject to the concerns of the other Commission members.
Secretary Luebke provided a summary of the comments; he noted that the staff has already been addressing the issue of maximizing the green space and trees, with particular focus on the placement of trees along the medians. He said that the Commission could choose to support the concept with these comments; alternatively, if the concept is not supported, the Commission should provide specific reasons for requesting changes to the proposal. Mr. Moore offered a motion to approve the concept, with the request that its development include consideration of opportunities to add more trees and other plantings wherever possible, especially to mitigate large expanses of pavement, and further development of details for pedestrian lighting and wayfinding in order to avoid conflicts among the modes of travel. Upon a second by Mr. Cook, the Commission adopted this action. Mr. Luebke said the staff will continue to work with the project team on the development of the design and the preparation of the next submission.
E. D.C. Department of General Services
1. CFA 21/JUL/22-4, Cobb Park, trapezoid parcel bounded by Massachusetts Avenue and H, 2nd, and 3rd Streets, NW. New park landscape and public artwork. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 16/JUN/22-3) The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
2. CFA 21/JUL/22-5, Congress Heights Recreation Center, 611 Alabama
Avenue, SE. New building and landscape. Concept. (Previous: CFA 16/JUL/20-4) The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
3. CFA 21/JUL/22-6, Ward 8 Senior Wellness Center, 1700 Q Street, SE. New building and landscape. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the concept for the Ward 8 Senior Wellness Center, submitted on behalf of the D.C. Department of Aging and Community Living (DACL). The site is on the eastern side of the Kramer Middle School campus in the Fairlawn neighborhood, northeast of downtown Anacostia. The wellness center would serve all senior citizens throughout the city to help improve their standard of living; its program requirements include a secure, welcoming entrance, flexible spaces, and a commercial kitchen. He described the proposed configuration as a two-story main block with two wings in an L-shaped configuration. He noted that the project team has not consulted with the Commission staff beyond an initial meeting. He asked Solomon Ikotun of the D.C. Department of General Services to begin the presentation; Mr. Ikotun introduced architect and project manager Karen Gioconda of Perkins Eastman DC to begin the presentation.
Ms. Gioconda said the wellness center typology was created in Washington and has since been used throughout the country. The design for this building represents a modernization of the earlier typology and is meant to serve multiple generations in one building—in this case with the expectation that students from Kramer Middle School will participate in its programming. Although it would serve the entire city, the wellness center is also intended to foster engagement with its immediate neighborhood. The program will focus on nutrition, and the wellness center will have hydroponic and raised-bed gardens for people to learn about growing and preparing healthful, seasonal foods.
Ms. Gioconda said the proposed plan would create a seamless connection between indoors and outdoors. The site, adjacent to Kramer Middle School, is within walking distance of Anacostia High School and Anacostia Park; most of the seniors coming to the center are expected to arrive by car or public transit. The wellness center has been placed near Kramer Middle School’s existing parking lot and student drop-off area. The site plan provides improvements for the school, including a 45-space parking lot behind the building, additional stormwater management features, and an outdoor space that could be used for environmental education; the wellness center would also have a 45-space parking lot that would include handicap-accessible spaces. A security fence would surround the wellness center site, including between the wellness center and school, although a gate or gates would allow people to walk between the two buildings.
Ms. Gioconda said the project is intended to achieve an environmental certification of LEED Gold and would include passive solar design features to reach its sustainability goals; the building would be oriented to the south to take advantage of sun exposure for growing plants and for protection from north winds in the winter. The main entrance would be at the building’s northeast corner, facing the parking lot, and visitors would enter through the vestibule into a large, double-height lobby and reception area. A two-story wing would extend west from the entrance block, and the volume containing the multi-purpose room would extend south. The right-angled juncture of these two wings with the entrance block would create a sheltered courtyard within the interior angle, which would have seating, a trellis, and shade for year-round use. First-floor spaces would include a multi-purpose room, a fitness center, and a commercial kitchen; the second floor would have lounge areas, flexible activity spaces, and offices, along with access to a roof terrace. Photovoltaic panels for passive solar energy would be located on other roof areas. The landscape, designed as an extension of the building program, would include outdoor activity spaces, walking paths, and plantings featuring trees chosen for their colorful foliage. She indicated the ten-foot drop in grade on the south part of the site toward Q Street, where a large heritage tree with an extensive canopy dominates the sloping landscape; this tree would remain.
Ms. Gioconda indicated the alignment of the wellness center building with the rear facade of Kramer Middle School, establishing a relationship between the two structures. She said the school building has been determined eligible for historic designation, and she described how the elevations of the wellness center have been designed in reference to the school’s facades, scale, and materials. The massing of the wellness center would step down from west to east, mediating between the taller school and the two-story red brick row houses that characterize the neighborhood.
Ms. Gioconda described in more detail how a variety of materials and fenestration patterns would articulate the wellness center’s facades and define its landscape. The primary exterior material would be red brick, possibly include terracotta or slightly different shades of brick. The wood trellis and decking, along with other wood landscape elements, would add warmth to the palette, and perforated metal screens would surround mechanical equipment. The north facade, which will provide views toward the Anacostia River, would replicate the pattern on the north facade of the school. Larger areas of glazing would be used on the south facade along the courtyard and to provide views to the neighborhood, taking advantage of solar exposure.
Chairman Tsien opened the discussion to comments from the Commission members. Mr. Moore expressed appreciation for this continued investment in wellness centers, and especially for the co-location of the Ward 8 Senior Wellness Center with Kramer Middle School, which demonstrates consideration of the city’s social infrastructure. He commended the outdoor spaces, the threshold leading into the lobby, and the intention to have the building’s design mediate conditions between the built spaces and the gardens. However, he expressed serious concerns with the design of many of the architectural elements. Noting that the Commission staff is available for consultation before proposed designs are submitted for review, he encouraged the project team to take advantage of this opportunity in order to resolve general design considerations.
Mr. Moore observed that the perspective view of the wellness center’s east facade shows an approach walk leading from the 18th Street sidewalk to the entrance; however, this walk is not indicated on the site plan, which instead shows planting in this area. He asked which illustration was correct. Ms. Gioconda said the initial design was to have an entrance vestibule on the north side only, facing the parking lot; the vestibule was shifted to face 18th Street, but no walk is proposed from the 18th Street sidewalk because it is the project team’s understanding that people will arrive by car and approach the building from the parking lot on the north side. She added that this configuration also addresses security concerns by limiting the number of gates in the fence; however, she said a walk from the 18th Street sidewalk to the entrance could be added. Mr. Moore commented that having a door that does not lead anywhere is very conspicuous on the site plan. While acknowledging that the wellness center will serve a city-wide population and some people will indeed arrive by car, he emphasized that providing access from the 18th Street sidewalk is important for the building, the site, and the needs of walkable urban communities. and it should be a priority. He commented that the perimeter fencing should appear transparent and welcoming, with the goal of making the site accessible for pedestrians and neighbors.
Mr. Moore noted the intention to loosely replicate the school’s fenestration pattern on the wellness center’s exterior. However, he said the wellness center has a different identity and interior uses from the school, and he does not think the attempt to imitate the fenestration of a large public school is successful on this small building, which should relate more to the residential scale of the row houses across 18th Street. He suggested exploring alternative facade designs with different details and proportions, and with more consideration of the building’s use. As an example, he observed that the building’s heavy punched-masonry expression does not work well with the functional interaction between the kitchen, garden, and outdoor pergola spaces.
Ms. Delplace commended the wonderful idea to create these multi-generational community centers, observing that more of them will be better for the city. She supported Mr. Moore’s comments, and she raised questions about the scale of the garden and of the building. Noting that this wellness center will serve the entire city, she asked for information on its capacity. Ms. Gioconda responded that the building size is approximately 15,000 square feet, and it is expected to accommodate 125 people at any given time during the day. The multi-purpose room, the largest space, would be able to seat approximately 90 people for an event such as a lecture, with the adjacent courtyard providing additional space. Ms. Delplace recommended reevaluation of the exterior spaces, questioning whether there would be enough space to conduct formal outdoor activities for 125 visitors. She recommended rethinking the orientation of the building and advised further study of how the outdoor spaces would work in order to create spaces that can be used for planned activities, such as fitness, as well as for other purposes. She also advised further study of the circulation through the outdoor spaces. She recommended avoiding the creation of dead-end paths, which are problematic; she said that paths are always more successful if they can be connected into a progression, series, or loop.
Mr. Cook agreed with Mr. Moore that echoing the school’s design may seem to be an admirable idea, but since the two buildings have different functions, the wellness center does not need to reflect the school in scale, materials, or fenestration. He said the likely budget constraints provide an additional reason to distill the design down to its essence, observing that the presentation depicted a mix of many different materials, many different window types—some horizontal, others vertical—surrounded by a variety of framing devices, and many other elements such as pergolas and trellises. He said that in his own practice, when he designs a building with a modest budget, he picks just one or two design ideas and concentrates on doing them well; however, this design presents perhaps seven or ten different ideas, resulting in a hodgepodge of forms and details. He recommended taking another look to simplify the scale and, in particular, the fenestration.
Ms. Tsien commented that she sees little relationship between the design of the wellness center and the design of the school. She observed that the new building appears to have an odd, almost Art Deco style of window framing, and she said the strength of the school is that it is essentially one material, which clarifies its design. She agreed with Mr. Cook that the design might be improved by reducing the number of styles and materials to avoid the appearance of a collage. She also stressed the importance of thinking carefully about the larger site and the proposed addition of more paved areas. While expressing support for the intention to improve the school’s parking lot and basketball courts, she questioned adding a second, separate parking lot behind the wellness center; while some sort of separation may be needed between the two lots so that it will be clear where to park, she suggested that this separation could instead be created through landscape design or by somehow grouping the lots and basketball courts to reduce the overall amount of paved surfaces, which will absorb heat. Finally, although she commended the intention to create a relationship between the two buildings, she expressed concern about how a perimeter fence might conflict with the intended sharing of programs; she recommended further consideration of how the two buildings could work together without the perimeter fence.
Mr. Stroik said he similarly does not see a resemblance between the school and wellness center, and he expressed strong support for the recommendation to simplify the new building’s material palette. While the scale of the wellness center does not see m problematic, he said its overall design would benefit from simplification and clarification. Regarding the site design and security fence, he observed that the wellness center will share the site with the school, and it is reasonable to want to improve things for the school; however, placing the two buildings next to each other results in an inherent tension between relating and separating them.
Mr. Stroik observed that an important building like the wellness center should face the main street, and he asked which street is primary and which facade is the entrance facade. Ms. Gioconda said Q Street to the south is the main street, and the school’s primary facade is on Q Street, although the wellness center’s entrance would face east toward 18th Street. Mr. Stroik asked if the project team has explored orienting the main entrance toward Q Street, making this the primary facade. He acknowledged the issues about driving and parking, but he said this change would be a way to establish a visual connection with the school; he observed that discussions about intergenerational design tend to suggest creating a more hospitable visual relationship among buildings.
Mr. Stroik commended the garden design as very attractive, and he expressed support for Ms. Delplace’s comments on the landscape. He said the project in general should have more relation to Q Street and to the school, whether through its architecture or through further development of its landscape. He suggested creating another entrance route extending from a new gateway off Q Street into the garden and from the garden into the wellness center.
Chair Tsien asked Ms. Gioconda if she would like to respond to the Commission’s comments. Ms. Gioconda described the negotiations and constraints that have led to certain decisions, such as the agreement between DACL and D.C. Public Schools to have the security fence extend between the two buildings, and the protection of the large heritage tree on the design of the landscape near Q Street. She acknowledged the Commission’s guidance to simplify the exterior design of the wellness center; to add an entrance walk from 18th Street; to clarify the size and purpose of outdoor spaces; to refine the design of the hydroponic garden so that it functions as a transitional space between building and landscape; to improve the connection to Q Street through the addition of an entrance gate; to restudy the security fence and add gates to strengthen the engagement between the wellness center and school; and to create a better relationship among the two parking lots and the basketball courts.
Chair Tsien thanked her for this response. She said the Commission will not take an action and will request the applicant team to return with a new concept design; she emphasized the importance of meeting with the Commission staff during this process to discuss questions of site access, fencing, paths, material palette, and the simplification of elements and details. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
During the following presentation, Mr. Cook departed for the remainder of the meeting.
4. CFA 21/JUL/22-7, Lorraine H. Whitlock Elementary School, 533 48th Place, NE. Renovations and additions to building and landscape. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the proposal for renovations and additions to Whitlock Elementary School, formerly the Aiton School, submitted on behalf of D.C. Public Schools (DCPS). The site is within a residential neighborhood that includes three-story red brick row houses and freestanding two-story houses on relatively large lots; the Watts Branch tributary of the Anacostia River runs along the north side of the site. The existing building, a four-story red brick structure, was constructed in the early 1960s. The classroom wing runs north–south, parallel to 48th Place, and behind the one-story entrance volume at the north is a two-story east–west wing that contains a multipurpose room. The classroom wing would be modernized, and the wing with the multipurpose room would be replaced with a much larger, slightly curving addition that would contain a gymnasium, library, and cafeteria, designed in a more contemporary style as a series of nested volumes to break down the scale. He said the goal for site development is to reach net zero energy; to attain this, it is proposed to dig approximately 100 geothermal wells and install arrays of photovoltaic panels on roofs, canopies, and within the landscape, which requires reconfiguring much of the outdoor activity space. He noted that the Commission staff has discussed the design with the project team and with other agencies, including the D.C. Historic Preservation Office, which has generally been supportive of this direction.
Mr. Luebke asked Christopher Jenkins, coordinator for the DCPS Office of Innovations and Systems Improvement, to begin the presentation. Mr. Jenkins introduced architects David Bagnoli and Sasha Petersen of StudioMB and landscape architect Adrienne McCray of Lee & Associates to present the design.
Mr. Bagnoli said the existing school building is located in Ward 7 on the east side of the Anacostia River, and it is one of many schools in this area that are scheduled for modernization. He noted that this building was reviewed by the Commission in the 1960s. The main entrance faces west towards 48th Place; he indicated the natural stone wall immediately left of the entrance doors, and he said the entrance composition of stone wall, glazed entrance doors and windows, and small horizontal canopy would remain. He noted that this composition was shaped by the Commission in its review of the school’s initial design in the early 1960s, and he observed that the use of stone adds a natural accent to a building that otherwise resembles an industrial building. He added that the D.C. Historic Preservation Office has also supported retaining the entrance composition and has encouraged a respectful treatment of the school building.
Mr. Bagnoli said the classroom wing has very constrained ceiling heights and relatively small classrooms, which complicates its modernization for the needs of a contemporary school; additionally, the one-and-a-half-story multipurpose room is too small. The program is to accommodate a modern school program on the site, using the 50,000-square-foot building that would remain after removal of the multipurpose room, and adding approximately 25,000 square feet of new construction. The addition, which will appear taller, will typically have ten-foot floor-to-floor heights, rising to fifteen feet for the cafeteria and library; its elevations are designed to extend the horizontal character of the original building while also representing its own program through the articulation and cladding of the different volumes.
On a site diagram, Mr. Bagnoli indicated the greenway along Watts Branch at the north end of the site. He also indicated 49th Street, which follows a curving alignment along the east side of the site and provides a connection to the neighborhood’s primary street, Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue, located north of Watts Branch; he said that strengthening the school’s relationship to 49th Street would be a civic gesture to the community. While the school’s principal entrance would remain on the west facing 48th Place, a new entrance would be added at the rear of the existing lobby to face 49th Street. He described how the landscape steps down to the south and east, creating a natural bowl configuration in which an amphitheater would be built, and flattens out to the north, an expansive area that provides many opportunities.
Ms. Petersen presented the building’s massing and design in greater detail. She said that replacing the multipurpose room with the proposed addition would reorient the school toward views to the greenway on the north and the neighborhood on the east. The massing of the addition is extruded from the existing lobby to create a curving volume that is broken up into subsidiary masses; a lower volume along the concave curve on the south would be more closely related to the width of the existing classroom wing. Within this lower volume, the library would face south toward the new landscaped area in the angle between the two buildings; it would include a small terrace space adjoining an outdoor classroom. At the second story, a bridge on the east side of the entrance lobby would connect the classroom wing to the addition. The large volumes of the gymnasium and cafeteria would be oriented toward the north and east, featuring broad views over the athletic fields to the Watts Branch greenway.
Mr. Bagnoli said that community members have repeatedly commented that the existing building looks like a factory, a resemblance that was noted by the Commission in the 1960s review. Because the classroom wing’s generic appearance fails to convey the internal program, one goal is to have the addition clearly represent the functions within it, such as by indicating the library through a slight inset of the facade with a parapet rail to define its second story, and by the use of a variety of materials. Another design characteristic of the addition would be the extension of the existing building’s horizontal character onto the new curving facades, such as through the use of similar horizontal strip windows; on the end wall of the addition, punched windows would be similar to the windows on the end walls of the classroom wing.
Ms. Petersen said the materials on the addition would be compatible with those on the older structure, including its natural stone wall, and some materials would relate to the natural areas on the north. Materials in different textures would be used to create playful movement across the facades. A dark brick would relate to the red brick of the older building; textured brick would be introduced to suggest movement, which would also be created by the random arrangement of opaque panels across portions of the facades. Different types of glass would suggest the varied program spaces of the interior, such as a more reflective glass for the gymnasium windows. Ground-face CMU is proposed on some portions of the facade, such as at the terrace, to create a monumental appearance and a visual relationship with the stone wall adjoining the main entrance.
Ms. McCray described the site programming. In addition to the existing and new entrances to the main lobby, a new entrance would be added farther south along 48th Place leading to the Childhood Development Center (CDC); both new entrances would have outdoor plazas. The new approach to the main lobby from 49th Street on the east would accommodate the five-foot change in grade sloping down from the sidewalk; this area would include a stairway, ramp, and the amphitheater. A solar panel structure along the east side would frame the outdoor spaces in the landscape “bowl” and would also provide shade for the outdoor classroom. Play areas for different age groups would be created, including outside the CDC and in the broad landscape to the north; this north landscape, primarily accessed from the addition, would also have soccer fields, an area of hardscape, and photovoltaic arrays. The parking lot would remain in its current location north of the main lobby, although it would be reduced in size and surrounded by a fence, and it would also incorporate a photovoltaic array. She noted that some existing special and heritage trees on the site would be maintained. Planted earthen mounds would be used throughout the site to buffer, frame, and separate different program areas, and bioretention areas for managing stormwater would be integrated throughout the site. Durable landscape materials have been selected, including concrete, crushed gravel, and rubber surfaces in some play areas.
Chair Tsien thanked the design team for its presentation. Noting that Mr. Cook had left the meeting and that Mr. Moore would need to leave soon, she asked Mr. Moore to begin the discussion.
Mr. Moore commended in particular the sensitivity of the proposed site design, which he observed is mindful of existing plantings, and also the intention to reduce the size of the parking lot. He acknowledged the challenges of working with an older building and of designing a new structure that defers to its landscape. Referring to a rendering of the gymnasium, he commented on the power of the landscape it will overlook, leading to Watts Branch; he asked if it might be more appropriate to design the addition as a background to this landscape, while acknowledging that its architecture may not support this sensibility. He said further refinement may be needed to address such issues as the large amount of glazing, with the risk it presents for bird strikes; such considerations may require careful study of the building envelope to ensure it works in harmony with the landscape. He observed that the addition would be in dialogue with the horizontality of the original building, continuing its horizontal lines to move the eye around the addition’s volume, but in a way that might not complement the massing; he suggested revisiting how and where some of these horizontal lines are being developed and detailed in the elevations.
Ms. Tsien commented that she likes the sense of an anonymous building, such as the historic school, in which interesting things can happen; she said she appreciates the difficulty of working within its limited floor-to-floor dimension and the ingenuity of the proposed mechanical system. She expressed support for the new addition’s massing, observing that it is appealing and works very well with the landscape. She said the project reminds her of Alvar Aalto’s design for the town hall in Säynätsalo, Finland, citing that project’s continuity of brick wall planes as they wrap both linear forms as well as more organic forms that are outside the orthogonal grid. She recommended simplifying the materials of the addition since the forms themselves are strong. She questioned the proposal to articulate so much of the facade planes with ground-face CMU; she suggested considering how the addition would look if it were entirely brick, which would unify the new and old construction, and she said the forms themselves are strong enough not to need further articulation. She expressed support for the planning, noting that the connection of the ramping up to the higher forms looked like it would work well. She questioned whether the ashlar stone wall at the main entrance would remain an iconic reference, suggesting that the addition itself might be enough of an icon.
Mr. Stroik commented that a great deal is happening in the design of the addition, making it more complicated than it needs to be, and he noted the response from neighborhood residents that the existing building looks boring, like a factory or a “machine for learning.” While commending the attempt to work within the limits of this structure and to build an addition, he suggested conducting a cost analysis for construction of an entirely new building; instead of keeping a disliked building, the project could give the neighborhood an entirely new school if it can be built for a similar cost to the renovation and addition.
Mr. Bagnoli responded that the historic preservation community has expressed concern that this school is representative of a generation of D.C. schools, and they would disagree with a decision to demolish the building and replace it. He said that even the proposed demolition of the multipurpose room has been questioned by the preservation community, delaying the submission of the concept design by a couple of months, even though retaining the multipurpose room would result in problematic internal circulation to an addition in this area. He agreed the existing school looks like a factory for learning, and he said if the site were a blank slate, the school would not be built like this today. However, it is understood now that a building represents embodied carbon; also, whether or not this building is considered beautiful, demolishing it would be throwing away a part of our history.
Mr. Bagnoli noted that Mr. Stroik had raised the question of how new uses can be successfully inserted into the shell of the older building. He said the preservation community has agreed that the corridor can be moved off-center in order to fit modern education spaces within the shell, which has resulted in bays that will require penetrations for HVAC equipment. These adaptations mean the historic shell can be retained, thus saving the carbon investment. He added that the existing windows are recent replacements that are thermally efficient and can remain in use. He said the cost of demolishing the existing school would be approximately five million dollars; as a result, demolition and replacement with an entirely new structure would be twelve to fifteen percent more expensive than renovating it in conjunction with a new addition. Mr. Stroik agreed these are valid points, but he said he still supports the opinion of the neighborhood families whose children attend this school and who dislike the building; despite the opinions of the preservation community, he advised serious consideration of replacing it.
Ms. Delplace commended the project team for its development of an attractive and interesting design that responds to the difficulties of the site, whose challenges are successfully addressed. She expressed support for the progression of the spaces as they move out into the landscape, adding that the architectural design also includes some impressive moves. She said her only suggestion is that the north elevation could respond a little more to the landscape. She commented on the incredible beauty of the views to Watts Branch and its riverine landscape, a natural feature that will provide great educational opportunities. She said she had attended school in a Modernist building like this, and she agreed with the importance of gestures to open up its windows and change its appearance. She expressed her strong appreciation for Mr. Bagnoli’s discussion of embodied carbon, emphasizing that society must reach the point where this subject is a valid part of any discussion of new construction in a community, in addition to the importance of changing the common perspective about the value of new versus rehabilitated structures; she thanked the project team for introducing these ideas.
Chair Tsien expressed support for approval of the concept design. Secretary Luebke summarized the comments and noted that some significant issues were raised about the architecture, including materials, details, and the north facade; he said that a concept approval would need to provide clear direction for developing the design. He added that normally it is preferable to have the design issues be more resolved for a concept approval, but the choice is with the Commission, and the staff can work with the project team in refining the proposal. Mr. Moore offered a motion to approve the concept design, with a request for further study of the elevation and the facade materials, and for development of the landscape design, to be resubmitted as a revised concept design. Upon a second by Ms. Delplace, the Commission adopted this action; Mr. Stroik voted against the motion.
Secretary Luebke reiterated that this approval is conditional on the resolution of the identified issues, and he suggested that the design team consult with the staff in developing a revised concept proposal; if the next submission is satisfactory, the Commission could choose to delegate review of the final design to the staff.
At this point, Mr. Moore departed for the remainder of the meeting. Secretary Luebke noted that a quorum of four Commission members remains for the next agenda item.
5. CFA 21/JUL/22-8, Francis Stevens Education Campus (School Without Walls at Francis Stevens), 2425 N Street, NW. Building renovations and additions. Concept. Secretary Luebke said School Without Walls is a D.C. public magnet school with an innovative curriculum, attracting students from across the city. The Francis Stevens campus accommodates School Without Walls’s pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade program. This campus is located in the West End neighborhood, adjacent to Rock Creek; it comprises part of an L-shaped configuration of public facilities that includes an outdoor swimming pool and a playing field to the southwest. The campus is framed by the lawns and forested slopes of the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway to the west, north, and northeast; the area immediately north of the school is a relatively flat lawn before the topography slopes down steeply to Rock Creek. The existing Francis Stevens school building dates from 1925, with additions in 1928 and 1955. The proposal is to renovate and expand the building; classrooms would be added on the west, and the addition on the east would provide an expanded gymnasium and other facilities. The front elevation along N Street would not be altered except for minor repairs. He asked Matthew Dela Cuesta of D.C. Public Schools to begin the presentation.
Mr. Dela Cuesta said that the other D.C. officials in attendance are design manager Renee Pean of D.C. Public Schools and project manager Elyse Roeder of the D.C. Department of General Services. He introduced architect Omar Calderon of Perkins Eastman DC to present the design.
Mr. Calderon presented the project’s design principles, which include an emphasis on indoor–outdoor connections; he noted that School Without Walls’s curriculum uses the city as a laboratory to provide opportunities and enrichment for the students. He said that the existing school building has some historic merit with many design features worthy of preservation, although it does not have historic designation; the proposed additions are intended to defer to the historic architecture.
Mr. Calderon said that a special feature of the school’s site is its location at the edge of the city grid, adjoining the extensive National Park Service property of the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway. He indicated the constrained property line for the school; most of the perceived school grounds are part of the National Park Service’s property, including the adjacent tennis courts. The pedestrian circulation through the parkland is primarily an informal path system; at the forested edge to the north, the topography descends thirty to forty feet toward Rock Creek and the vehicular parkway. Immediately to the south and east of the school, the West End neighborhood includes many private office and condominium buildings. He noted that the high school program of School Without Walls is located farther south in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood; the younger students at the Francis Stevens campus typically aspire to attend the high school’s college preparatory program.
Mr. Calderon said the original school building from 1925 and the additions from 1928 and 1955 would remain; a temporary modular building on the west would be removed. The school was designed by Washington’s municipal architect, Albert Harris, using a concept of extendable schools that would accommodate a growing student population; notably, the entire N Street facade was built in the first phase, ensuring that the school would have a strong civic presence with the appearance of a finished building regardless of whether future expansion occurred. The first expansion in 1928 included a third floor and a wing to the north; the 1955 expansion added a cafeteria with a gymnasium on top, using a stacked program to condense the building’s footprint on the site. He said that the joints between the different building phases can be difficult to detect. He indicated the existing paved areas for the school’s parking, and he described the site’s current character as being dominated by asphalt and cars.
Mr. Calderon noted several important features of the existing school, including the entire N Street front facade and the main entrance at its center; he said that the proportions and scale give the building a quasi-monumental civic character. He presented views of the north facade, which he described as more of a park-facing front rather than the rear of the building; he indicated the secondary entrances with pediments and porticoes, which would be restored where possible. He said the interior is in need of improvement because of unsympathetic alterations such as exposed conduits; the classroom spaces would remain, and he described them as spacious and having gracious ceiling heights. The existing interior corridor layout would be preserved, which generated the concept for configuring the proposed additions; he indicated the existing grid of corridors on each floor, with lightwells flanking a central theater space. The north side of the contains a long double-height volume that was originally a gymnasium in the 1928 addition; this space would be converted into the school’s library. He said that the subsequent gymnasium in the 1955 addition is too small for the school’s current needs.
Mr. Calderon described the scope of the current project. A classroom wing would be added on the west, with a single-loaded corridor for the west-facing classrooms, and with linking structures at the north and south ends to connect to the 1925 building. These links would have egress doors but are not intended as primary entrance points for the school. The west addition and the links would enclose a narrow courtyard space that would provide an outdoor learning area for the youngest students. A second addition to the northeast would expand the second-floor gymnasium. On the first floor, the existing service courtyard between the 1925 and 1955 buildings would be roofed to provide an enlarged double-height cafeteria space. The final component is improved outdoor space with better opportunities for learning and recreation; the parking configuration would be reconsidered, with the goal of a site that is dominated by student activity instead of by cars.
Landscape architect Lauren Wheeler of Natural Resource Design presented the site design. She said the school occupies a special location between the busy street and the parkland along Rock Creek, providing special opportunities for outdoor experiences and programming. On the south, the building frontage along N Street would have traditional landscaping along the facade and framing the entrance; two existing trees would remain. The west side of the site would consolidate the school’s existing urban agricultural program, which currently has multiple locations with raised vegetable planters; she said the sunlight and growing capacity would be ideal at this location, with access for all of the students. Specialized outdoor areas would include a spiral-shaped “collective thinking process” area for older students and a storytelling area for younger students; the site design would also provide opportunities for students of all ages to be together, in keeping with the school’s philosophy. The site design on the north would emphasize nature-related play with natural materials such as boulders and wooden play equipment, relating to the natural landscape of the adjacent parkland. Three bioretention cells for stormwater management would be located around the site, designed to help students understand how pollinators relate to plants; an observation platform would extend a bioretention cell to assist with student observations. Within the very limited site, much of the existing asphalt area would be reclaimed for school programming. She summarized that the site is being designed for interactive and cooperative play, helping to develop the children’s social and emotional well-being.
Mr. Calderon presented the proposed plans and elevations. He said that the existing main entrance would remain, with enhancements to meet current standards of accessibility. The auditorium at the center of the building would also be preserved. He indicated the newly enclosed cafeteria space to the northeast with a new kitchen facility, the expanded gymnasium above, and the converted space for the library on the north. The third floor would have additional classroom spaces, including an outdoor classroom that looks out toward the parkland. He presented a perspective view from within the new cafeteria showing the extensive glazing on the north that would provide a visual connection to the site and parkland; the existing brick facades along the sides of the cafeteria space would remain, and the folded ceiling configuration would include a clerestory window for additional daylight.
Mr. Calderon said that the design of the proposed facades resulted from careful study of the original 1925 building, which has a good sense of scale, proportions, and simplicity; as an example, he indicated the combination of single-story and double-story components within the historic facades, and he said that the ratio of windows to solid walls is well balanced. He also noted the historic building’s corner treatment, with a full bay emphasizing each corner along the front facade; the proposed southern connecting link for the western addition would respect this treatment by stepping back from the primary facade plane, allowing the historic corner treatment to remain visible to the public. He described the resulting proportions for the proposed additions; the materials would include a masonry base and metal panels above, with a scale that relates to the large masonry blocks of the historic building. The new west facade would have a sense of thickness, providing solar protection for the classroom windows with double-height vertical fins; he noted the design goal of net-zero energy consumption, based on energy conservation and on-site power generation. On the north facade, the materials and window proportions would be comparable to the south facade; the connecting link for the west addition would be similarly set back, with access for the students to reach the playground spaces to the north. The existing smokestack at the center of the north facade would be preserved as a design feature. At the northeast, the glazed enclosure for the new cafeteria would be set back slightly from the existing facades to give the appearance of another link structure.
Mr. Calderon said the proposed exterior for the gymnasium expansion is a gradual progression from the 1955 brick construction to the new modern facades; this design approach avoids the problem of abutting brick from two periods of construction, which will likely not be matched successfully. The proposed facade materials in this area include photovoltaic panels, possibly mounted on trellises, supplementing the panels on the roofs; he said that urban buildings typically do not have sufficient roof area to generate enough power for achieving the net-zero energy goal, and the project team’s mechanical engineers are determining how much additional photovoltaic surface area will be needed. He added that the trellises would only be placed on the facades of the 1955 addition, not on the facades of the 1925 building. Additional exterior materials include skylights, storefronts, curtainwall, and a perforated screen that would allow sightlines from the windows.
Mr. Calderon concluded by noting that the proposal has been developed in consultation with the staffs of the Commission of Fine Arts, the National Capital Planning Commission, and the D.C. Historic Preservation Office.
Chair Tsien invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Ms. Delplace expressed appreciation for the presentation and for the sensitivity of the design. She noted the unusually high density of the West End neighborhood, with the school site having the special opportunity to relate to the landscape and open space of the parkland. She suggested further focus on strengthening the relationship between interior and exterior spaces; she also questioned the heavy reliance on synthetic materials, suggesting more integration of a natural landscape within the tight site area. She said that a good place to explore these issues would be the courtyard area that would be created by the western addition.
Mr. Stroik joined in expressing appreciation for the presentation, particularly for the discussion of the building’s history and the continuation of its design logic for the interior planning. He also offered support for the continued use of the historic main entrance, observing that many school renovations in Washington end up ignoring the original entrance. He said that the reuse of the school building results in a project that will be beneficial for the neighborhood. He encouraged the placement of a skylight above the new cafeteria, observing that this would be better than a solid roof because of the existing windows that would open onto the cafeteria space.
Citing the design’s careful study of the historic building’s planning, Mr. Stroik encouraged extending this respectfulness to the design of the facades. He said his primary concern is the N Street facade, which was described as the civic front that addresses the public realm. He observed that the 1955 addition at the east end of this facade is in keeping with the original 1925 building’s facade, and he suggested that the proposed addition to the west be similarly consistent with the 1925 building or the 1955 addition. Mr. Calderon responded that a punched-window vocabulary was considered for the south facade of the western addition, comparable to the south facade of the 1955 addition on the east. The design team concluded that the extensive distance between these two additions would make the visual relationship imperceptible—the two additions would not be seen together. He said the more important concern should be the relationship of the western addition to the 1925 building. He also reiterated that the western addition would be set back slightly, which is not apparent in the south elevation drawing. Mr. Stroik acknowledged that with the proposed addition, the length of the south facade would be approaching 500 feet; nonetheless, he emphasized that the historic building’s design language should extend to the new addition along N Street, continuing the design approach of being sensitive to the existing building. He added that this guidance is focused on the front facade; a different design approach could be acceptable for the other facades of the additions. Mr. Calderon asked if extending the language would encompass using the same materials and massing; Mr. Stroik said these would be desirable features, as seen in the 1955 addition, which he said serves as a good example. Mr. Calderon clarified that the presentation included the design team’s proportional analysis of the central part of the 1925 facade, which he described as very handsome; he said the design of the 1955 addition is somewhat generic, with less sense of scale and a less thoughtful treatment of the base.
Dr. Edwards commended the presentation and the thorough study of the existing building as a basis for designing its expansion. She said she had attended Janney Elementary School, which was recently expanded with an addition that is comparable to the current proposal. She expressed appreciation for the modern composition of the proposed facades and the interior spaces, as well as the consideration of materials. She suggested that future presentations include views from the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, highlighting the building’s north side as a second front and illustrating how the building would emerge from the landscape. She acknowledged that some of the parkway property is typically overgrown because of invasive species or lack of maintenance.
Chair Tsien recalled that she has not generally supported a “collage” approach to materials in other projects; however, she said that this design is much more skilled and thoughtful, as noted by the other Commission members. She said that she therefore does not share the concern with the contrasting exterior materials, observing that they are being used to define a new mass rather than appearing to be merely wallpaper that is glued onto the facades. She cited a sense of congruency in the massing and the exterior treatment, and she said she is comfortable with the proposal as a sophisticated and sensitive design that knits together the old and new parts of the building.
Mr. Stroik asked if the project team for a school renovation in Washington would ever talk to the families with children attending the school in order to hear their opinions about proposed additions, such as a preference for traditional or modern designs. Mr. Calderon responded that the design team often discusses the project with the school community; he cited the meetings with the School Improvement Team (SIT), which includes teachers, parents, and students. He said that the contributions at these meetings of the students are especially insightful. Mr. Stroik asked if options were presented to solicit opinions on whether their brick school should receive a metal-clad addition. Mr. Calderon responded that the design team typically draws options as part of the design process. He said that a particular design preference would be difficult to predict, but he emphasized that this school community has a sense of pride in the building, and the conversations with the community have guided the design process. The designers are trying to be good stewards of the school on behalf of this unique community.
Chair Tsien invited further response from the representatives of the D.C. Public Schools. Ms. Pean said that the school projects have an integrated engagement process with the school community that starts at the beginning of the design team’s involvement. The project manager is in constant communication with school officials, including the principal, and issues such as programmatic adjacencies are carefully reviewed; the proposals are then brought to the larger forum of the SIT meetings. She emphasized the importance of the engagement process in forming the design, and she said this is an important feature for the D.C. Public Schools.
Secretary Luebke added that the consultation process has also included the National Capital Planning Commission and the D.C. Historic Preservation Office; the consultation has resulted in simplification of the design, particularly for the western addition, and he said that further simplification may be desirable such as elimination of some of the vertical fins. He said the consultation process has been productive, and he offered to work with the design team on additional refinement as directed by the Commission.
Chair Tsien suggested that the Commission approve the concept and note Mr. Stroik’s suggestion for a more consistent use of materials across the south facade. Upon a motion by Mr. Stroik with second by Ms. Delplace, the Commission adopted this action. Secretary Luebke asked if the Commission is specifically requesting a more consistent facade; Chair Tsien and Mr. Stroik clarified that the request is for consideration of a treatment that is more consistent with the historic building, but the approval is not contingent on making a change to the design. Mr. Calderon agreed to continue the consultation process to discuss this issue.
F. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—Shipstead-Luce Act
SL 22-120, Cotton Annex, 300 12th Street, SW. Renovation and 13-story addition. Final. (Previous: SL 21-056, January 2021) The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 2:24 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA