The meeting was convened by videoconference at 9:01 a.m.
Hon. Billie Tsien, 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 15 September meeting. Secretary Luebke reported that the minutes of the September meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. Cook, the Commission approved the minutes.
B. Dates of next meetings. Secretary Luebke presented the dates for upcoming Commission meetings, as previously published: 17 November 2022, 19 January 2023, and 16 February 2023. He noted that no meeting is scheduled in December.
Secretary Luebke noted that Vice Chair Edwards is travelling to New York today to accept a 2022 “Women in Architecture” award from Architectural Record magazine, in the category of educator.
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 only minor wording changes have been made to the draft consent calendar, which has five projects. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Ms. Delplace, the Commission approved the revised 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 22-139). In order to resolve a delay in receiving some submissions from the D.C. Government, six cases have been added to the appendix (SL 23-005 through 23-010); one of these cases supersedes an earlier submission, which is now listed as being returned without action (SL 22-149). Other changes to the draft appendix are limited to minor wording changes and the notation of dates for the receipt of supplemental materials. The recommendations for five additional projects are subject to further coordination with the applicants, and she requested authorization to finalize these recommendations when the outstanding issues are resolved. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. Cook, the Commission approved the revised Shipstead-Luce Act Appendix. (See agenda item II.D for an additional Shipstead-Luce Act submission.)
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Secretary Luebke noted that the Georgetown jurisdiction generates the largest number of cases submitted to the Commission each month; the Commission’s Old Georgetown Board met earlier this month to review the submissions, and occasionally a larger, more prominent project is placed on the Commission’s agenda for a presentation. Ms. Bogard reported that no changes have been made to the draft appendix, which has 32 projects. Upon a motion by Mr. Cook with second by Ms. Delplace, the Commission approved the Old Georgetown Act Appendix.
B. National Park Service
1. CFA 20/OCT/22-1, National Desert Shield and Desert Storm Memorial, West Potomac Park at the southwest corner of 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue, NW. Design for new memorial. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 21/OCT/21-1) Secretary Luebke introduced the revised concept design for the National Desert Shield and Desert Storm Memorial. Noting that the project has been through four site selection reviews and four design reviews, he summarized that the design has been developed as a series of dune-shaped berms configured in a loose spiral enclosing a central plaza. Its commemorative elements include a long bas-relief wall sculpture of a battle scene from the conflict; a bronze eagle and falcon; a wall with inscriptions; and a large central fountain designed to recall a traditional battle shield. He said that in October 2021, the Commission approved a revised concept design and provided several recommendations for refinement, including further study of the fountain’s perimeter details and of reducing the visual and auditory effects of heavy traffic on the memorial experience. The project is now in design development, moving toward a final design, and recent work has concerned progress on the artistic elements. Today’s submission includes detailing of the bas-relief to be evocative of the battle experience, with a more impressionistic modeling of the figures; development of the position and character of the bird sculptures; development of the fountain details, including the rim and the patterning of the metal surface of the shield; refinement of the inscription wall; development of a design approach for the pavement that will unify the entire site design; and conceptual treatments and development of the landscape design, lighting, and signage. He said the design team has been coordinating with the stone fabricator and preparing sculptural studies in Italy. He added that yesterday he inspected the test carving mockup of the proposed granite for the bas-relief and circulated photographs to the Commission members. He introduced Peter May, associate director for lands and planning for the National Capital Area of the National Park Service, to begin the presentation.
Mr. May agreed that tremendous progress has been made this year on advancing the design toward its final approval. He introduced Scott Stump, president and CEO of the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association, the sponsor of the memorial, and he asked landscape architect Skip Graffam of OLIN to present the design.
Mr. Graffam began with an overview of the memorial’s commemorative elements, followed by a detailed presentation of the three major components—the Storm Wall, the Inscription Wall, and the Unity Shield—noting that all the elements have been designed as an ensemble that will create a great memorial experience. He said the essential elements are the two interlocking dune forms, the Storm Wall and the Inscription Wall, which encircle a central area meant for reflection. The curving path will begin at the memorial’s main entrance from the sidewalk on 23rd Street, entering the space within these two dune walls and linking the commemorative elements; the leftward spiral of this path is intended to recall the “Left Hook” battle plan that led to victory in Kuwait. The bas-relief on the Storm Wall will display scenes of the Kuwaiti desert and the battle. Its narrative terminates with the sculptures of two raptors, a Saker falcon and a bald eagle, symbolizing the liberation of Kuwait under the leadership of the United States; the birds are shown flying toward a rising sun that represents Kuwait’s rebirth as a sovereign nation. The path will then pass the quieter and more reflective Inscription Wall, which honors those who fought in Kuwait. Finally, the path will arrive at the center, the Coalition Grove of trees and plantings set within two small dune forms curving around the Unity Shield fountain, which commemorates the shared effort, risk, and sacrifice of the 35 coalition countries.
Mr. Graffam said the design team studied a wide variety of stones for the dune walls and paving, considering their overall color, durability, ease of carving, and lack of veins or inclusions that would interfere with carving. Stones were examined under both dry and wet conditions and under different lighting, from full shade to full sun, to assess effects on color, warmth, tone, and clarity. The proposed stone is “Giallo Antico” granite, which has a salt-and-pepper appearance resulting from fine white and black grains dispersed within a golden background; he said this stone best balances workability, durability, and aesthetic effect. Its color changes throughout the day, from gray to yellow to rose, depending on sun, shade, and cloud cover, reflecting the variety of atmospheric conditions encountered in the Kuwaiti desert; when it is wet, it retains a darker gold color, and carved elements become very distinct. He added that sunlight moving across the curving faces of the two larger dune walls should create the effect of a sundial.
Mr. Graffam described how the design of the Storm Wall bas-relief is organized into three major parts: the build-up, the conflict, and the liberation. The conflict section will have the greatest level of detail; these images will taper off to the right, with the bronze sculptures of the raptors appearing to fly away from the wall toward the dawn represented by the rising sun. He said that Emily Bedard, the sculptor of the Storm Wall, has explored the interaction of the bas-relief and background in various materials and scales, studying how best to create layered images and a sense of atmospheric depth within the larger cinematic scene of the battle. She has been working at a studio in Italy, where she will produce the final sculpture through a technique using a computer-controlled router that carves a digital scan of a design into stone, and then finishing it with hand carving.
Mr. Graffam described changes to the sculptures of the falcon and eagle. Their positions have been shifted slightly toward the center of the Storm Wall, tying them more closely to the battle scene, and placing them almost at the center of the two paths that will lead out from the memorial’s center; they will provide a dynamic and powerful focus to the wall. He said the sculptor, Robert Eccleston, has carefully studied the bodies of actual birds to create extremely realistic and meticulously detailed maquettes; further study will explore how to render them in bronze, at more than one and a half times larger than life size.
Mr. Graffam said the Inscription Wall, opposite the dynamic Storm Wall, will have a simple, clean design honoring the service and sacrifice of the coalition troops. The composition of the text has been slightly reorganized, with the primary message of the inscription on top; the names Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the center, separated by the bas-relief carving of a wreath; and the ten major battles of the conflict arranged at the base. He said that Ms. Bedard has slightly enlarged the wreath and will give it a more realistic form and texture than previously proposed. The design details of the inscriptions, such as font size and the use of infill, are still under consideration.
Mr. Graffam emphasized that the Unity Shield fountain forms the heart of the memorial, at the center of an area designed to suggest an oasis, where visitors can sit and enjoy the shade and the sound of the fountain’s cascading water. He said the fountain is designed in the form of a battle shield to represent the struggle undertaken by the 35 countries of the international coalition to liberate Kuwait. Its bronze surface would be covered with an intricate geometric pattern that would have at its center a stylized representation of the national flower of Kuwait, the arfaj; its spiky petals would radiate out, developing into a spiraling pattern derived from historic Middle Eastern battle shields, which in turn would be overlaid by designs based on the traditional woven baskets of Kuwait. The patterning would create a consistent but dynamic surface for the water to run over. At intervals across the shield, separate “ring pools” would supply an even, uniform flow of water, even in windy conditions. The names of the coalition countries would be displayed around the edge of the shield, and a ring pool would flow from beneath the names so they always remain dry. He added that the fountain has been designed to be attractive when dry, since this will be its condition for half the year.
Mr. Graffam described the changes made to the fountain’s design in response to the Commission’s recommendations to add a curb and to increase the sound of cascading water to mitigate traffic noise. Instead of the single sheet of water previously proposed, water falling over the edge would be divided into a series of concentric cascades, creating a consistent pattern of flow into the two- to three-inch-deep basin; consultation with the fountain designer determined this to be the best way to animate the water’s appearance and to create a louder, more sparkling sound. A small curb at the outer rim of the stone basin would return the water flow and also act as a stop and a visual break between pavement and fountain. He said a slightly darker, possibly gray color of granite is being considered for the basin to differentiate the fountain from the paving and other stone elements.
Mr. Graffam said the designs for the paving, planting, and lighting would support and unify the commemorative elements and the Left Hook progression. The paving pattern, formed by low-contrast, six-by-six-inch modular pavers, would appear to spiral around the oasis, evoking the image of sand blown by the wind and the movement of sandstorms. He noted that it will not be necessary to create perfect crisp spirals in the paving, which will be a background design suggesting texture and a general sense of spiraling movement.
Mr. Graffam said the planting design will also be a supporting element, helping create the form and accentuating the sense of movement to the center. Within the circle formed by the two large dunes would be two smaller dunes, which would contain a palette of plants arranged in a gradient of color, from darker to lighter, culminating in a yellow flower to represent the arfaj and Kuwait’s liberation. Authentic Middle Eastern plants would not be used; instead, the palette includes plants with geometric forms, small flowers, and small, spiky leaves, similar to plants native to the Middle East.
Mr. Graffam said the proposal includes planting seven trees in the center oasis. Species under consideration include the yellowwood because of its interesting texture and seasonal variation, displaying a strong yellow leaf color in the fall and the unusual characteristic of white flowers that do not bloom every year. Smaller trees would be planted in the two smaller dunes. The selected trees would reach a mature height of thirty to fifty feet, which avoids competing with the elms used as street trees; they will be limbed up to open views between their trunks.
Finally, for the berms forming the outward-facing sides of the two larger dunes, Mr. Graffam said the proposal is to plant a low-mow or no-mow Carex, a grass-like sedge. Blowing wind would bend the Carex on the berms in large, sculptural patterns, emphasizing their forms and recalling the patterns that wind creates on actual sand dunes.
Mr. Graffam then described the proposals for lighting and signage. The most intense lighting would be placed on poles to illuminate the key pieces of sculpture and the Unity Shield, augmented by gentle lighting from below to emphasize the form of the dunes; the paths would also be illuminated. In the evening, the cascading water in the fountain would be lit from behind to show its animation. The signage would include one entrance sign, set back from the street corner in the entry plaza, along with standard National Park Service signs for entrance and wayfinding and a small, temporary donor plaque set within the mini dune plantings.
Chair Tsien thanked the design team for its compelling and thorough presentation, and she invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Mr. Moore observed that the materials sent to the members before the meeting illustrated a section profile for the edge of the fountain basin that does not include a curb, but the illustration in the meeting presentation includes a curb; he asked which image is correct. Mr. Graffam said the image shown in the presentation is correct; the previous design was included in the pre-meeting materials to illustrate the increase in the shield’s size since the previous review. Mr. Moore asked for confirmation that the donor plaque would not be a permanent feature; Mr. Graffam responded that the plaque will be removed after ten years, and its removal will not affect the memorial’s design.
Ms. Delplace congratulated the design team for an incredible memorial design that effectively ties all its components together. She said her only comment is that the planting plan for the oasis is somewhat busy and not as clear as it could be; she observed that an actual oasis has a very simple plant palette. She recommended simplifying the palette to strengthen the visitor experience of moving past dunes to an oasis. Otherwise, she said, the design is very compelling. She endorsed the choice of Carex praegracilis sedge, calling it an excellent choice because of its dynamic form.
Ms. Tsien agreed with Ms. Delplace’s comments and congratulated the design team. She commented that this project will serve its purpose as a memorial while also creating a gracious public space; she observed that the design is less concerned with making an object than with providing a welcoming and comfortable place to inhabit, and it will be an excellent addition to the National Mall landscape. She noted the Commission’s ongoing concern with ensuring that the Mall provides public space for all visitors, even as more space is being devoted to memorials.
Mr. Cook also complimented the progress of the design, which he said will create a very compelling place; he commended the beautiful and subtle paving pattern. He observed that the sculptures of the two raptors show an admirable attention to detail, and he asked if the backs would be as detailed as the fronts. Mr. Eccleston responded that both will be sculptures in the round, with as much detail as seen on the living birds. Mr. Cook asked how these sculptures would be attached to the Storm Wall. Mr. Eccleston said stainless steel posts on the lower part of the wings would connect with the wall, an elegant attachment that was developed in consultation with the project engineer; this design would allow the sculptures to be removed if necessary.
Mr. Stroik thanked the design team for a wonderful presentation. He asked Ms. Bedard how the idea emerged to blend the human figures on the Storm Wall into the desert background; Ms. Bedard responded that this idea was gradually developed by the design team, partly in consultation with the Commission staff, and the goal now is to create greater integration of the figures with their background. She noted the challenge of achieving this effect in granite, although the test pieces have been encouraging; the fine patterning of light and dark grains within the golden stone will allow the figures to alternately merge with and emerge from their background, assisted by the character of the tooling produced by the digital router in combination with hand-tooling. Secretary Luebke emphasized the difficulties of working with granite, which is very crystalline and brittle; he said the selected stone has good color and a fine grain that allows for the rendering of details yet also lends itself to the depiction of a more sweeping and atmospheric background. He observed that the stone’s most interesting quality is the way its appearance changes under different conditions, such as lighting: at moments it will show a lot of detail, and at others the entire effect will be atmospheric. Ms. Tsien agreed that this quality is one of its greatest strengths.
Chair Tsien noted the apparent consensus to approve the revised concept. Secretary Luebke summarized the review: the Commission members had no comments about the Inscription Wall, which the staff thinks is beautifully composed; they seem satisfied with the design of the raptor sculptures, the lighting, the signage, and the Unity Shield, although there are still details of fabrication to be worked out; and the remaining details requiring the most refinement are the bas-relief on the Storm Wall, as well as the landscape, which the Commission suggested simplifying.
Secretary Luebke observed that today’s presentation, while ostensibly focused on the artworks, provided a fairly comprehensive design development review. He said the Commission could ask for future review of all or components of the project as a final design, or could instead delegate review of the final design to the staff, which would return the project to the Commission if necessary. Chair Tsien said the Commission supports the design, with the expectation of further refinement of design and fabrication details. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Ms. Delplace, the Commission approved the revised concept and delegated review of the final design to the staff, with comments about simplifying the planting design.
2. CFA 20/OCT/22-2, Shepherd Parkway - Parkland, rectangular park bounded by Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenues, and Parkland Place, SE. Rehabilitation of existing park. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced a concept submission for the rehabilitation of Parkland, an area within Shepherd Parkway—a linear park of more than 200 acres of woodland, located on the downward slope of the Anacostia River escarpment in Southeast and Southwest Washington, D.C. Originally connecting parts of the city’s Civil War defenses, Shepherd Parkway was created as part of the Fort Circle Drive, begun in the 1920s by the National Capital Park and Planning Commission, with land acquisition that continued into the mid-20th century. Currently, Parkland is an open space used primarily by the surrounding community of Congress Heights for recreation, events, and gatherings; it suffers from compacted soils, erosion, and inadequate maintenance. The current proposal is intended to address those conditions, provide more flexible community recreation space, improved safety, and increased recognition of this park as an entity of the National Park Service (NPS). He said the project team will present two concept alternatives that have resulted from public consultation, and he asked Peter May of the NPS to begin the presentation.
Mr. May said the 1.5-acre park is small but important to the NPS; it is heavily used by the surrounding community and in need of significant improvement. The proposed concepts grew out of extensive public consultation, and there is a public meeting for the project scheduled this evening. He noted that the national parks within Washington are organized into large park units that include smaller parks scattered throughout the city; Shepherd Parkway is one such unit, with Parkland as a small park component. He introduced planner Claire Sale and landscape architect Shannon Early of AECOM to begin the presentation.
Ms. Sale said that Parkland, a narrow parcel extending eastward from the larger Shepherd Parkway, is characterized by forest and understory vegetation; the area immediately to the west of the project is steeply sloped and heavily vegetated, and it is subject to illegal dumping. The NPS completed the Shepherd Parkway Development Concept Plan in 2020; its goals included enriching existing activities, exploring new recreation uses, and creating new programming to improve the ecological and social health of the park by addressing maintenance and safety concerns. Two different rehabilitation concepts for Shepherd Parkway as a whole, and two specifically for Parkland, were developed in the plan; the proposed work at Parkland is the first project to be implemented. She said recreation opportunities considered for Parkland include a playground, open space, and picnic amenities. Other public requests for the park have included tree preservation; plantings; green space; a plaza; tables and benches; a playground; improved signage and interpretation; and programming and volunteer opportunities that could also discourage illegal activity.
Ms. Sale said the project team studied nearby land uses to get a better understanding of the site and to inform the design. Retail uses predominate at the park’s east side along Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, with churches and schools in the immediate vicinity. In addition, there are several playgrounds in the area, primarily at schools, as well as the nearby Congress Heights Recreation Center, which includes a basketball court and other sports facilities. The project team also determined the area of potential effects on historic resources, and the site itself is within the proposed Civil War Defenses of Washington Historic District. She said nearby uses, such as bus stops, have led to the creation of social trails through the park. There are several picnic tables where people gather, and alcohol use can discourage others from using the site. She indicated the compacted soil conditions, which have inhibited vegetation growth and exposed the roots of the many mature trees. The existing playground is located on a flat terrace set within the north-south grade change, and it is surrounded by a fence; the play structures are not accessibly designed. She said the approach for the proposed design is to take advantage of existing features such as the heavy tree canopy and some site furnishings; the social trails and topography have also informed the design.
Ms. Early presented the two concept alternatives: Concept A has a variety of neighborhood uses for all ages, including for fitness, play, and community gatherings; Concept B has a greater focus on children’s activities, with more developed play spaces. The common elements in both designs include barrier-free circulation throughout the park; new, safe, enlarged, and age-separated play spaces; flexible community and picnic gathering spaces to accommodate a variety of groups and families; and NPS park signage. Standard site furnishings include traditional benches; trash and recycling receptacles; bicycle parking; lighting; and permeable paving. Other signage may include interpretive information on native plants and animals. She said that because of space and site constraints, features that were not incorporated into the design include community gardens, a dog park, a spray fountain, sandboxes, and restrooms. The trees have been surveyed and several are recommended for removal because of insect damage, branch die-back, or disease; however, these trees would be replaced by both canopy and ornamental trees in excess of what is required by guidelines.
Ms. Early began with Concept A, titled “Neighborhood National Park with Fitness Loop.” At the east end of the park would be a paved plaza shaded by trees. Site furnishings here would include bicycle parking, trash and recycling receptacles, and plenty of seating; the existing bus shelter would be retained. Because it is the most visible part of the park, NPS signage and other future public art would be located here. Toward the center would be an oval-shaped picnic area with a shade structure, and multiple picnic tables and grills would be provided for public use. The proposed playground would be fenced, with areas for 2-to-5- and 5-to-12-year-olds separated in part by a change in grade; retaining walls would be constructed to ensure that slopes within the playground would not exceed two percent. For the site circulation, the existing connections to the perimeter sidewalks would be maintained, and multiple paths allowing people to pass through the park would be provided. The fitness loop in this concept could also feature information on local plants and animals. A small planting area would buffer the park from Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue on the east.
Ms. Early then presented Concept B, titled “Neighborhood National Park with Playground and Nature Play.” The site circulation is similar to Concept A, but the paths would be more linear. As with Concept A, the east side features a paved plaza, with a shade structure to allow for more activity at the southeast corner, as well as NPS signage and a potential location for public art. Farther west would be a picnic area that is somewhat more linear than in Concept A; the shade structure here would also be smaller, although the same table, grill, and shade elements would be included. To the north of this area would be a nature play space for all age groups; it would include natural materials such as boulders and logs, along with information on plants and animals. A sensory pathway would connect south to the playground for 2-to-5-year-olds, with the area for 5-to-12-year-olds located farther west on the existing playground site; the equipment would be replaced, but the existing fence would be retained and repaired. The final play element would be an embankment that takes advantage of the existing typography. She said the proposed playground equipment is fairly standard, with the inclusion of accessible play elements.
Ms. Early summarized that several features are common to both options. The many existing benches would be retained and rehabilitated; picnic tables would be designed for accessibility; and new trash cans would ensure consistent and easy servicing by maintenance staff. The planting palette would include only native species, and the predominant willow oaks would be supplemented by maples and other species. The pathways and program areas in both options are arranged to avoid the critical root zones of existing trees. Lighting would be incorporated for safety. She noted that additional site furnishings and play equipment will be included in the presentation at the upcoming community meeting; the concept alternatives will then be refined based on this feedback and consolidated into a single concept design.
Chair Tsien thanked the project team for its presentation and welcomed questions and comments from the Commission members. Mr. Cook asked if there are environmental issues associated with the gas station across the street from the park, and if there has been a study of the gas station in relation to the proposed nearby uses within the park. Tammy Stidham of the NPS responded that an environmental study has not been conducted, but she is not aware of any issues affecting Parkland, such as fuel spills, that would have triggered a study. Mr. Cook suggested further exploration of this issue, especially because of the illegal dumping at the west end of the park.
Noting the ongoing redevelopment of the St. Elizabeths campus in relation to the surrounding neighborhood of low-rise duplexes, Mr. Cook asked if the neighborhood will remain at its current scale, or if there should be consideration of the effects of taller buildings, such as blocking sunlight into the park. He also asked if there is a larger master plan for the area. Ms. Stidham said the D.C. Government has a draft small area plan for the neighborhood, but it focuses more on recreational opportunities and services; the nearby Congress Heights Recreation Center is also being rehabilitated. She said the NPS has coordinated with the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation to ensure the project is complementing other work by the local government. Mr. May added that this part of Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue is zoned MU-4, which is mixed-use development with a maximum floor area ratio of 2.5; this could eventually result in 50-foot-tall buildings, with a potential bonus if there is an inclusionary housing component.
Mr. Cook said he is struggling to understand where the project is in the design process, and he asked if the Commission should be interpreting this as a “very loose concept.” He noted the great specificity in the bench selection, trash cans, and similar small elements, while more substantial components of the design, such as the gathering area and canopy in Concept A, are oddly unspecific and underdeveloped. Ms. Stidham said the project is in the pre-design phase, between concept and schematic design; the two presented concept alternatives are moving forward and being presented to the public for feedback. She said she expects the resulting concept to include elements from both A and B, but she does not anticipate adding more elements. She added that the NPS is presenting the proposal early in the design process to ensure the Commission is supportive of the concept approach. Mr. Cook commented that the proposed gathering space in Concept A, as illustrated in the renderings, does not look like a particularly inspiring place to be. He said that such a space, which appears to be the centerpiece of the design, should be something that grabs you and makes you want to spend time there; instead, it seems to be a random array of picnic tables and grills with a utilitarian structure at the center. Ms. Stidham responded that this tucked-away neighborhood park is one of the few open spaces available to the public and is “over-loved,” which is evident in the photos of the existing conditions. She said providing a more organized space for multiple activities to occur simultaneously is important, with a goal of providing enough flexible space without overdeveloping the site. Mr. Cook said he agrees with the goal of providing a flexible space for multiple functions and activities, but he questioned its execution in the design.
Mr. Moore observed that the park is located at the intersection of streets named for Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., and he said a project such as this should be considered an “act of responsibility, and even repair.” He commented that rather than being “over-loved,” the park appears under-loved, as well as under-invested in and under-maintained; there has been a dereliction of duty that this project should be addressing. He said he has two reactions to the rendering of the central gathering space in Concept A: that this would indeed be an improvement over what exists, but what was just shown should not be what is offered to the community when seeking its feedback. He said he recently attended an exhibition on Rosenwald Schools, which were model schools constructed in Black communities in the early 20th century that were incredibly important in their own right, but suffer in comparison to the schools built for whiter and wealthier communities. When seen in this light, one can then understand the issues with the proposed concept alternatives, which present a similar problem: in terms of design quality and programming possibilities, what is being offered to the community is at a low level that needs to be reevaluated. He said that the usual community consultation process, where meeting attendees are asked to pick their favorites from several presented concepts, can be problematic. He noted that this project’s submission materials include a number of community requests for a relatively small space and a desire for gathering space, and he asked for more information on the community consultation process; for example, Have the meetings been well attended? What has the outreach been? What is informing this design and the overall process?
Ms. Stidham responded that two or three community meetings were held to assist in developing the concepts. Attendees at the first meeting were asked what they would like to see in the small park as an open-ended question. The feedback was then developed into more concrete ideas that were again shown to the community, followed by the creation of plans that were also circulated to the public. The two concepts presented to the Commission today will be shown to the public at a community meeting this evening, followed by a thirty-day comment period. The project team has also been attending public events in the area to talk about the project. She said the comments from this latest round of consultation will be incorporated into the design, with another public meeting to follow as the project team proceeds to a final design.
Mr. Moore expressed appreciation for this information but requested more detail on the conversations and process of the community meetings, such as what people are being shown as examples, references, and possibilities. He said if the rendering of the gathering space in Concept A is what is being shown, then he finds the process to be very problematic. Ms. Stidham responded that something similar to this presentation has been shown, along with precedent images of different amenities that the public may wish to add to the project. Mr. Moore suggested sharing these precedent images with the Commission members so they can have a better understanding of the design intent, as well as what is being offered for the public conversation about the design possibilities for the park. He emphasized that the design level and quality of the proposal as presented are inadequate. He cited the proposed shade structure—to be constructed within a national park at the intersection of avenues honoring Dr. King and Malcolm X—which looks like it is from Home Depot, and he emphasized that this park deserves much more than a generic installation.
Mr. Moore said he also has more direct feedback regarding the two options. In Concept B, the separate play areas distributed across the narrow site would reduce the amount of space available for fully inclusive and accessible spaces and would limit public use of the majority of the site in favor of a limited population. In addition, the play areas would require extensive fencing, which would be a significant expense. He added that he hopes the discussion with the community will address the balance of fully inclusive and accessible public space. He noted that the people who usually attend public meetings are older or have young children—vocal groups who would advocate for the amenities seen in Concept B. He said the project team is also responsible for those who do not attend community meetings, stakeholders whose needs should be considered when designing public space. He said he is asking these questions about process because they tend to drive many aspects of projects such as this.
Ms. Stidham agreed that not everyone attends public meetings; therefore, the meetings are recorded and made available on the project website, which also provides an online comment form. Mr. Moore observed that both concepts propose public gathering spaces that would be across the street from a gas station, which seems to be in conflict with proposed uses, such as movie nights or picnicking. While he acknowledged the spatial limitations of the site, he said further work is required to ensure that the most inclusive and community-requested space is in the best possible location, and that the related structures, landscape, and plantings are all in service of creating the best place possible. He said this is not the case in either of the presented options, and he is bringing these issues forward because these considerations could help those attending the upcoming community meeting have the information they need.
Ms. Delplace said the designs seem to make sense at the plan level, but she commented that people would not actually organize themselves in the ways anticipated. For example, in Concept B, four walkways converge at the central gathering space, and people would not be constrained by the border that is drawn around this area. She said there should be an examination of how people use space; in this case, people will likely be everywhere and not just within this proscriptive circle. In addition, basic design principles must be considered, such as how people progress through the space, which will be problematic because some people will want to be at the intersection where the most activity will be. She said designers must put themselves into the space and seriously consider its quality, which is not related to cost but rather to placemaking. She asked if the NPS knows how many people use the park; Ms. Stidham said the project team does not have specific numbers for Parkland other than an understanding that it is a large number of people. Because there are many churches nearby, many church-related events occur on the weekend; in addition, there are no nearby playgrounds other than the existing one at Parkland. She added that the alcohol consumption in the park discourages other people from using the park, so the NPS is trying to make the space more accessible for many uses while discouraging the undesirable ones. Ms. Delplace advised studying issues such as the number of users; the methods of conveyance to the park; the times the park is used; and how people use the space. She said this would help distill a program that makes sense in relation to the high demand for green space; she questioned whether the programmatic needs have been proportionally addressed if, for example, schoolchildren use the park every afternoon while the gathering space is only used on Sundays.
Ms. Delplace also asked if the three mid-block crossings on Parkland Place are signalized; Ms. Sale said they are not. Ms. Delplace said this is not good design, especially if there will be children coming to the park, and she asked for more information on the three crossings. Ms. Stidham said she does not believe the crossings on Parkland Place have been studied. Ms. Delplace advised broadening the study of pedestrian access, commenting that any mid-block crossing should be designed to be safe for all users. Regarding the planting palette, she advised that red maple trees have very shallow roots and are susceptible to erosion. She concluded by suggesting the project team take a step back and reevaluate the criteria and programming for the park. She emphasized that it is not enough to provide more benches or a play area; rather, the goal should be placemaking with an understanding of who will be using the park and how they will give feedback to the project team. She also observed that the redesign of a park with this level of demand must address maintenance at the outset; the park’s current condition is the result of neglect, and it will require consistent maintenance in the future.
Chair Tsien summarized the consensus that the project sets an inappropriately low bar for the design that must be raised, and that the project is not ready to be approved by the Commission. Noting that the design cannot be revised in time for tonight’s community meeting, she asked what it would mean for the NPS if the Commission does not approve the project. She also asked if only the program could be presented to the community instead of the full design concepts, observing that some of the Commission’s comments have included specific concerns with the two concept alternatives, such as whether there should be three separate playgrounds.
Secretary Luebke responded that the Commission can choose not to take an action and can provide comments in a letter; the NPS has its own process, and it is up to the NPS to decide how to proceed, but the Commission does not need to base its response on accommodating the external process. He also noted that the Commission is being asked to consider a concept design that was admittedly presented as being in the pre-design phase. Mr. May said the Commission’s reaction to the project is apparent, and the NPS is helped by having this feedback at an early stage of the design process. He said the NPS will try to return with a concept design that is worthy of the Commission’s approval. Mr. Luebke said the Commission’s comments would be transmitted in a letter within a week, and the discussion concluded without a formal action.
C. D.C. Department of General Services
CFA 20/OCT/22-3, Francis-Stevens Education Campus (School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens), 2425 N Street, NW. Building renovations and additions. Final. (Previous: CFA 21/JUL/22-8) Secretary Luebke introduced the proposed final design for renovation of the historic school building that houses the School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens. The School Without Walls is a magnet D.C. public school with an alternative curriculum; its K–8 grade levels are located at Francis-Stevens, which is in the West End neighborhood and adjoins the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway. At the concept-level review in July 2022, the Commission supported the continued use of the historic building and approved the proposal, including additions to the west and northeast. The Commission’s recommendations included better integrating the interior and exterior spaces; a greater emphasis on natural materials; and studying a more compatible treatment for the south facade of the western addition, as part of the school’s entire civic frontage along N Street. Today’s presentation includes refinement of the proposed facades to have a more disciplined and restrained appearance, and some reduction in scope due to cost. He noted that the site design addresses the limited area around the school that is within the control of the D.C. Government; much of the school’s broader open space setting is administered by the National Park Service as part of the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway.
Mr. Luebke asked Elyse Roeder of MGAC, acting as project manager for the D.C. Department of General Services, to begin the presentation. Ms. Roeder said the design team has been developing the proposal to ensure that it is responsive to the community’s needs, and also to the Commission’s previous comments. She introduced architect Omar Calderon of Perkins Eastman DC to present the design.
Mr. Calderon provided an overview of the context, design principles, site conditions, and project scope. An important principle for the design is an emphasis on connecting indoor and outdoor spaces, which includes reinforcing the school’s relationship to the adjacent park land. Noting the existing building’s civic presence along the street, he said that the design challenge for the new construction is to be deferential and sympathetic while not mimicking the historic architecture. He described the site as a plateau above Rock Creek, which is at the bottom of the adjacent forty-foot-deep valley. He noted that the high school for School Without Walls is located in a historic building approximately a mile to the south, adjoining the George Washington University campus; the high school does not have its own gymnasium, so its students use the Francis-Stevens gymnasium, which is not currently sized for high school needs.
Mr. Calderon indicated several features of the immediate context. The outdoor pool to the west, currently not in operation, is a D.C. Government facility; the tennis courts to the east of the school are controlled by the National Park Service. The original school building was designed in the 1920s by Albert Harris, the municipal architect for Washington; the first phase, dating from 1925, included the school’s main facade along N Street, and the second phase in 1928 included a large extension to the north. In 1955, a new gymnasium and cafeteria were added to the east. He described the main facade as having a subdued civic character with a prominent entrance at the center; secondary entrances on the north facade have detailing that would be preserved and restored. He said the proposed improvement of the building’s mechanical systems would allow for removal of the existing air conditioning units in the windows.
At the request of Chair Tsien, Mr. Calderon focused on the changes in the current submission. He presented the revised facades for the proposed additions, particularly the south facade of the addition to the west, which contributes to the school’s overall civic presence along N Street. The addition’s upper two stories would be grouped together in a slightly projecting volume of metal panels above the brick base, a composition that is intended to be sympathetic to the historic facade to the east. He indicated the simplification of the south facade in comparison to the previous proposal for the addition, with the brick fin element eliminated from the design; glazed corridors would link the new and old parts of the school, and the full southwest corner of the original building would remain visible. The west facade would continue the contemporary architectural vocabulary with a two-story volume of metal panels above a one-story brick base; a large recessed area would be differentiated by using a yellow finish for the metal panels. He said the third-floor outdoor laboratory space results in a slight asymmetry for the west facade. The north facade of this addition would also continue this vocabulary, with a close resemblance to the proposed south facade; the brick fin has been eliminated, and the organization of the windows has been simplified.
Mr. Calderon presented the revised design for the addition to the east, which would include a cafeteria on the first floor and an expanded gymnasium on the second floor, sized for high school use. The cafeteria would be created by enclosing the space between the 1925 building and the 1955 addition; he indicated the proposed roof, skylight, and northern glass facade for this area, which would serve more broadly as a commons for the school and a secondary access point connecting to the open space on the north. The east facade would include a combination of existing and new construction, with all of the gymnasium windows to be given a consistent treatment of vertical sunshade fins made of perforated metal.
Mr. Calderon concluded with a series of perspective views to illustrate the building within its context, along with details of the proposed materials. The metal facades would be a flat-lock panel system, with light gray or yellow panels approximately 1.5 feet wide and 3 feet tall; the panels would have a very tight corrugation that would impart a textured appearance from a distance. Gray aluminum panels would be used for fascias and connecting links; the brick on the additions is intended to be similar to the existing brick building. The perforated metal screens would provide shading while allowing for views outward.
Chair Tsien invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Mr. Cook asked about barrier-free access to the building, particularly along N Street. Mr. Calderon said that an access ramp will be built from the sidewalk to the school’s primary entrance at the center of the historic N Street facade; the ramp would be set within the landscape to the east of the entrance landing. He said that this access would be an improvement compared to the existing barrier-free access, which uses an unpleasant-looking ramp to a secondary entrance farther east on the facade. He confirmed that the historic center entrance would remain in use for all students, with a slight modification to accommodate the new ramp. Mr. Cook asked if this ramp may be removed from the project scope because of value engineering; Mr. Calderon clarified that its shape has been modified from the earlier design, but it remains part of the project.
Ms. Tsien observed that the design team appears to be very capable, as shown by the skillful integration of the new buildings with the existing building; she likened the broad design gestures to the work of Mexican architect Luis Barragán. She said the massing and the openings are very powerful in their scale and articulation, but she suggested a slightly darker tone for the flat-lock panels. Secretary Luebke noted that the color of the panels has been discussed with the staff of the D.C. Historic Preservation Office in recent months, following the Commission’s concept-level review, with the resulting design intent that the materials and colors on the additions—red brick at the base, and lighter-colored panels above—would be an inversion of the historic building’s materials of a lighter-colored stone base with red brick upper stories. The design team had originally proposed a lighter color for the panels, and the current design shows a slightly darker tone; he said the Commission’s advice for an even darker color would be conveyed as part of the historic preservation review process. Ms. Tsien commented that people do not see buildings in elevation, and the intended facade relationships for the materials and colors would likely seem more important on the drawings than in people’s actual experience. She reiterated her confidence that the design team is capable of considering this issue without requiring specific direction from the Commission.
Mr. Stroik commented that the design is very similar to the previous submission. He reiterated his appreciation for the intent to continue using the main entrance of the historic school, which he said is a well-designed building. He observed that the school renovation projects during his years on the Commission generally have not kept the main entrance, even though it is an obvious way to enter a building and also recognizes a school’s history for the benefit of the neighborhood and families.
Chair Tsien suggested a consensus to support the submission. Upon a motion by Mr. Cook with second by Ms. Delplace, the Commission approved the final design, with the comment to consider a slightly darker tone for the metal panels. Secretary Luebke added that the design team still needs to coordinate with the staff for the full documentation of the final design.
At this point, Mr. Stroik departed for the remainder of the meeting. Secretary Luebke noted that a quorum of four Commission members remains for the next agenda item.
D. D.C. Department of Buildings—Shipstead-Luce Act
Secretary Luebke noted that the newly created D.C. Department of Buildings results from the D.C. Government’s reorganization of the former D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs into two new agencies. Beginning this month, the D.C. Department of Buildings will submit referrals to the Commission in accordance with the Shipstead-Luce Act and Old Georgetown Act.
SL 23-004, American Institute of Architects National Headquarters, 1735 New York Avenue, NW. Renovations and alterations to building and landscape. Revised concept. (Previous: SL 22-105, June 2022) Secretary Luebke introduced the submission for revisions and alterations to the building and landscape of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) national headquarters. He noted that the project was most recently reviewed in June 2022; at that meeting, the Commission approved the concept and requested an additional submission during design development to address several issues, including a more expressive design for the solar panels, and revisions to the entrance sequence from New York Avenue to place greater emphasis on the ramped path leading up to the building entrance.
Mr. Luebke said the current submission includes responses to the Commission’s previous comments along with further coordination between the design team and the client. Revisions to the building exterior include a simplified design for the solar energy panels and shading devices, intended to maximize energy performance, as well as a new frit pattern for the windows. Landscape revisions include emphasizing the zigzag ramped entrance route by widening its width; narrowing the alternative route of stairs and disconnecting the stair route from the sidewalk; and adding a security wall and gate within the landscape. The feature wall of red sandstone, presented in various iterations in the previous reviews, has been redesigned as a series of low walls. The proposed central trellis within the garden has been revised to be slightly more dynamic, with a simpler supporting structure; the seating elements and paving pattern within the landscape have also been revised. He asked architect Christian Wopperer of EHDD and landscape architect Michael DeGregorio of Hood Design Studio to present the revised concept.
Mr. Wopperer said the design team has been advancing the project conceptually as well as technically, with careful consideration of the comments from the Commission as well as the large and vocal client group within the AIA. The presentation will begin with the landscape design revisions, which are primarily at the entry circulation route from New York Avenue on the south side of the site.
Mr. DeGregorio presented the revised plan of the proposed zigzag walk from New York Avenue; he noted that it is considered a walk rather than a ramp because of its shallow grade. The grading and alignment of the zigzag walk have been studied further, and its width has been increased from six feet to eight feet—the same width now proposed for the linear route of the entry stairs, which was formerly shown at fourteen feet wide. After much discussion and consideration of alternatives, the southernmost segment of stairs has been removed at the New York Avenue sidewalk; the result is that all people entering from this sidewalk would start their ascent on the zigzag walk, with the option of later switching to the stairs. He said this design gesture would reinforce the idea that the zigzag walk is equal to the stairs as a primary entrance route. He indicated the fence and gates that would form a threshold into the site and would allow for the site’s perimeter to be secured. Stone site walls would help to define the entrance sequence, and the same type of stone would be used for benches located around the upper plaza.
Mr. DeGregorio presented a series of perspective views of the previous and current designs to illustrate the experience of ascending the zigzag walk to reach the upper plaza and the AIA headquarters entrance; the route would also connect to the lower garden at the rear of the historic Octagon House. He indicated the previous proposal for a sandstone entry wall and the AIA logo; this feature has been reduced to a stone cheek wall, a smaller gesture that would still serve to mark the experience of entering the site. Within the planting areas, three runs of low stone walls would parallel the zigzag walk; the revised location for the AIA signage is along the lowest of these walls. The trellis structure, providing shade to the upper plaza, would be visible from the sidewalk and has been redesigned to have a lighter, livelier appearance. The fence and gate system would also be visible from the sidewalk; the gates would slide open each day. He said the design intent is to balance the need for site security with the desire for a visually open site that has the character of a public campus rather than being walled off; the alignment, height, and density of the fence reflect this intended balance.
Mr. DeGregorio described additional details of the site design. At the southeast corner of the headquarters building, an elevated terrace would have a view over New York Avenue; for the required safety protection, an unobtrusive glass guardrail is proposed. The AIA signage lettering would be brushed stainless steel, set on the low stone wall. The security fence would be set back slightly from the zigzag walk, within a planted landscape area. The rail for the sliding gates would be set on a low curb; swing gates would also be provided for emergency egress when the sliding gates are closed. He indicated the inset drawings that illustrate the gates in a closed position. The revised trellis design would have a lighter, more expressive and organic quality, providing dappled light on the upper plaza. As in the previous design, the proposed terrace walls would be made of recycled brick, and a large existing oak tree would be preserved; a segment of the zigzag walk would be designed as a bridge structure to avoid harm to the tree’s roots. He said the stone finish along the entrance sequence would be detailed to have progressively more refinement when moving closer to the headquarters building’s main entrance. Several options are being considered for the seating at the upper plaza, using red sandstone and possibly wood; the same type of seating would be provided at the Octagon’s rear garden. Additional plantings are proposed along the base of the building to soften its Brutalist character, giving it the appearance of emerging from a garden.
Mr. DeGregorio said the trellis design has been studied carefully to ensure that it provides the best density of shade; its design is still being coordinated with a structural engineer. The support columns for the trellis have been revised from square to round tubes, and the intent is to align these columns with the proposed structure along the building’s facade in order to relate the architectural and site elements. The suspended wood slats of the trellis would be grouped in modules, but they would be aggregated in a way that avoids a modular appearance. The paving of the central elliptical plaza would include panels of bricks that are recycled from the current plaza; the color for the rest of the paving has been refined to harmonize better with the tones of the brick. Moveable tables and chairs would be provided on the plaza to supplement the fixed seating.
Mr. DeGregorio concluded with a comparison of the previously and currently proposed site sections. He emphasized the reduced scale of the stone walls, and he noted that the slope of the zigzag walk would be approximately 4.8 percent.
Mr. Wopperer presented the revised design for the proposed solar shading system along the building facade, including perspective views of the previous and current proposals. The engineering of the armature support system has been refined, with the goal of creating a clean, elegant design. The bottom beams on each row and the large diagonal braces have been eliminated, reducing the embodied carbon in the project. The geometry of the panels has been simplified, and the panel system has been extended across the entire facade; he said the complete rows of panels would reinforce the existing facade’s sweeping horizontal bands of precast concrete that provide a visual frame for the courtyard and the Octagon. He described the revised design as a more disciplined and methodical grid that would give rhythm along the length of the facade.
Mr. Wopperer described the frit patterns that would be applied to the building’s windows as part of the solar control proposal. The design includes a macro-scale frit pattern visible from a distance and a micro-scale pattern visible from the building’s interior; the density of the frit has been designed in relation to the extent of each window’s solar exposure, with an average density of fifty percent. The shapes and diagonals of the frit pattern are intended to relate to the building’s exterior architecture and interior ceiling grid, a revision from the previously proposed pattern derived from the geometry of the L’Enfant Plan. On the windows facing New York Avenue, the pattern would relate to the progression of shadow lines from the existing building’s projecting stair tower; similarly, the windows facing 18th Street would have a pattern responding to the sun’s path. He described the frit patterns as both high performing and expressive, and he said the frit would enhance the interior by giving diffuse and dappled daylight. He emphasized the variety of light quality, the strong shadows, and the soft, gauzy textures that would result from the proposal. He also presented the revised design of the photovoltaic panels that would be part of the sunshade system: the rectangular panels were previously 4 by 5.5 feet; in response to the revised design of the structural system, the size of the panels has been reduced to 3 by 4.5 feet, with an increased number of panels that results in approximately the same total surface area. The smaller panels would result in better photovoltaic performance, less glare, and improved outward views. He added that the panels would sometimes produce a subtle moiré pattern, and their design is intended to harmonize with the garden trellis as well as with the macro-scale frit pattern.
Mr. Wopperer presented ground-level perspectives of the approach walk to the headquarters building from 18th Street, which is the arrival point for most of the staff. Between the walkway and the facade, the columns for the sunshade system would rise from a planted area, giving the sense of the building emerging from a garden. The revised structural support is intended to have an understated character that would allow people to perceive the light and shadow patterns of the solar panels. He indicated the tapered brackets that would add a finer-grained rhythm, resembling the ends of roof rafters, and he noted that the panels would be omitted near the main lobby to allow more daylight to enter this space. The angle of the panels would shift incrementally across the facade, transitioning from 21 to 54 degrees. The profile of the columns and beams for the solar shading system has been revised to use 7.5-inch-diameter round pipes with splice connections, which he said would have a clean appearance.
Mr. Wopperer presented samples of the proposed architectural materials, noting that the selections would be further refined for the final design submission. The panels would be a smoky gray photovoltaic glass. The armature support system would be painted steel, and the currently intended color is a medium to dark gray; he said this color relates well to the photovoltaic panels and the sandy-colored finish of the precast concrete. The glass would be very clear with high energy performance and high transmission of visible light; the photograph of a frit mockup illustrates the crisp shadow that would be achieved with the micro-scale frit pattern using a standard dot pattern with fifty-percent coverage. He presented charts of the existing and proposed conditions for daylight penetration and solar heat gain; the proposed glass could improve the amount of interior ambient daylight without contributing glare or compromising the views outward.
Mr. Wopperer presented aerial perspectives to illustrate the proposed alterations at the roof, which include an expanded screen wall to enclose mechanical equipment. The revised proposal calls for more closely matching the finish of the existing penthouse’s concrete blocks that provide screening of the large air-handling equipment. The metal louvers would be inverted to provide a better appearance when seen from below; he noted that very few windows of other buildings would be at the level of this rooftop. He added that the design includes seamless panels and concealed frameless doors, giving the penthouse a monolithic appearance; he described the design as nondescript and not distracting, intended to recede into the background. Secretary Luebke added that the rooftop proposal was discussed extensively; the staff supports the proposed solution, which places the new interventions below the height of the building’s original penthouse and largely out of view.
Chair Tsien invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Mr. Moore expressed support for the adjusted configuration and width of the entry stairs and zigzag walk, commenting that this revision is successful in creating a more generous and inclusive entry sequence. He questioned the intended scale of the security fence in this area; while acknowledging that the height varies in relation to the sloping grade, he observed that the described height seems inconsistent with the height of the people shown in the rendering. He said the visual impact and design character of the fence may be contrary to some of the improvements that have been made to the overall design of the project. He also asked whether the site’s entrance from 18th Street would have a fence or gate with a similar character. Mr. DeGregorio responded that the 18th Street entrance currently has a gate, and the proposal is to replace it with a new gate similar to the gate proposed along the New York Avenue side of the site. He acknowledged the design challenge of balancing the fence’s purpose of security with the desire to create the character of an open campus. He said the design team is continuing to work on addressing this balance, and the design of the fence may be too dense as depicted in the presentation; he noted that some refinement occurred after the presentation was submitted. He said the vertical wood elements within the fence design are contributing to the perceived density, and the design team is working with the AIA to determine whether a wider spacing is feasible to give more openness when the fence is seen in elevation. A lower fence height was also considered, which is apparently the version depicted in the perspective rendering, but the AIA did not support the reduced height; he said the rendering depicts a height of 6’-5” above grade on the right, reducing to 5’-2” as the grade slopes up toward the left, but the intended proposal is approximately one foot taller. Mr. Moore observed that the intended height would reach 7’-5” on top of the grade, which itself is substantially above the New York Avenue sidewalk grade, resulting in a large total height; he questioned why the AIA is requiring a taller fence. Mr. DeGregorio said the design team is continuing to work with the AIA on this issue.
Ms. Delplace observed that the proposed fence has a desirably transparent appearance when seen frontally, but the appearance becomes much more solid when the fence is viewed obliquely, and this solidity is problematic in comparison to the overall design approach for this landscape. She said that the proposal has many elements, each of which is designed well, but they seem to be independent elements rather than collectively forming a cohesive space. Noting the tenuous architectural relationship between the Octagon and the AIA headquarters building, she said the landscape could serve to pull together these elements, but the design is not yet successful.
Ms. Delplace asked about the intended finish for the landscape’s vertical elements, including the trellis; Mr. Wopperer confirmed that they are all proposed to be the same dark gray color, intended to contribute to the cohesion of the site. Ms. Delplace expressed support for such a continuity of material and color that helps to pull together the landscape spaces, and she agreed with the described intent that the design elements should be related without being identical.
Mr. Cook questioned whether the red sandstone elements are contributing special meaning to the design as intended. He observed that the sandstone walls would be visible as people approach the site along New York Avenue and ascend the zigzag walk, and the design also includes sandstone benches; he described the meaning as unclear and the result as disjointed. Mr. DeGregorio acknowledged that the use of sandstone in the first presentation of this design was intended to make a strong statement, while its use in the current proposal could be described as a “whisper.” He said the sandstone is no longer being proposed as a signature entry feature that provides a singular message; instead, it would be experienced as someone moves through the site, serving as a subtle wayfinding device. The newer narrative involves the transition from a quarry-hewn to a honed finish in progressing from the sidewalk to the building entrance, conveying how the architecture profession works with materials to give them a new life that differs from their original form.
Mr. Cook questioned the exact positioning of the trellis in plan, observing that one of its columns seems to obstruct the direct route from the 18th Street site gate to the building entrance. Mr. DeGregorio agreed that this is problematic, and he said the structural engineer is trying to accommodate the repositioning of this column. He said the design intent is to have a clear entry route that winds around the planted area along the building while providing a direct line of sight from the 18th Street gate to the building entrance. The design balance for the trellis includes a tradeoff between the number and thickness of the columns.
Ms. Tsien commented that the revised trellis design is improved. She observed that the key materials of the site design are wood, sandstone, and plants, which all serve to unify the site, and she agreed that the fence should have a more open character. She supported the design team’s choice to move to a dark gray color, which she said would cause the important design features to appear to float above the landscape, while everything else in dark gray would recede as part of the background. She suggested using the same color for the fence’s metal support system in order to emphasize the wood, and also the same color for the staircase handrails instead of white.
Ms. Delplace said she shares Mr. Cook’s concern with the use of sandstone, which now feels like a remnant from its earlier conceptual role in the design. She said the current concept for the stone is strong, progressing from a newly quarried character to a honed finish, but the presented renderings convey a random character for this idea. She asked why this material is being proposed; Mr. DeGregorio responded that the concept for using red sandstone grew from an interest in the stone for the Smithsonian Castle, which came from the Seneca quarry, with a history involving labor and race. The initial proposal for the AIA site included using this stone for a wall that would explicitly address these issues; the design team is hoping to keep this initial inspiration as a part of the project. He clarified that the proposed stone would actually be from a Colorado quarry, which would be a better material than the softer local Seneca stone. He acknowledged the potential disingenuousness of the sourcing and its tenuous link to the original idea, but the stone would have a warm quality and would reference the historic buildings and quarries that have shaped Washington. Ms. Delplace said these goals are worthwhile but are several steps removed from the actual material; she suggested renewed study of the initial idea about labor and race, which could be developed with a more genuine use of material. She observed that many quarries have reclaimed material available, which could provide an interesting commentary on how the architecture profession can reuse materials rather than quarrying new stone: the progression of finishes in the site design could illustrate the stages of working with reclaimed material.
Mr. DeGregorio asked if the dissatisfaction with the proposed use of red sandstone is the result of the Commission’s awareness of the earlier concept for its use. Ms. Delplace responded that even without this background understanding, the sandstone is questionable in the current design: the setting is mostly brick and concrete, and the sandstone would inexplicably pop up in the landscape. She summarized that the sandstone now seems to be a holdover from the earlier concept, and the idea for using it should be reconsidered and strengthened.
Mr. Moore commented that the concept of a progression of sandstone through the site seems to be a clear idea, while the earlier concept of the sandstone as a historical reference has weakened. He observed that the paving of the upper plaza includes a brick pattern using salvaged brick; he asked if this material could be used to tell a historical story. Mr. DeGregorio said the design team does not know where this brick was produced, but it dates from the time of the AIA building’s construction. Mr. Moore observed that the brick paving would be a central element of the plaza and might provide an opportunity to address the historical issues that were previously proposed in association with the red sandstone. He suggested that the AIA site, as a national headquarters, could relate more broadly to the post-Civil War involvement of Black Americans with the production of building materials; historical examples include the construction by former slaves of Freedmen’s Town in Houston, and the oppressive system of leasing convicts to the Chattahoochee Brick Company in Atlanta. He suggested contacting the modern-day groups involved in these historic locations. He said the initial impulse to have the design convey fuller histories about the relationship between American society and architecture was powerful, but this could better be accomplished with the plaza’s brick paving than with the sandstone. He observed that the elliptical plaza space is a central and powerful feature of the design, closely related to the prominent trellis. He added that the trellis itself could be a demonstration of how to build ethically and responsibly.
Chair Tsien summarized that the revised concept submission appears to respond to the Commission’s previous comments; she suggested a consensus to approve the revised concept, with the expectation that today’s comments will be addressed as the design is developed. Secretary Luebke suggested that the Commission request an interim submission addressing the areas of concern, prior to the submission of a final design. Chair Tsien agreed, commenting that the architectural proposals for the building are progressing well and do not need to be part of an interim submission; she expressed support for the successful simplification, clarification, and unification of the proposed solar panels. She said the areas of concern for an interim submission include the fence, the alignment of the canopy structure, the sandstone features, and the potentially greater significance for the brick paving at the upper terrace. Mr. Moore clarified that the issues with the fence details include its height, transparency, and visual impact. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Ms. Delplace, the Commission adopted this action. Secretary Luebke observed that this gives clear guidance to the project team in focusing the next submission on specific issues, while providing support for the overall layout of the project. He said that staff will coordinate with the project team for the next stage of the review process.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 12:37 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA