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A lot more people will ride Metro (and not drive) if the FBI makes a smart choice on where to move

Our region has been discussing where the FBI will move for years. A new analysis shows the choice is between a good option (Greenbelt), a mostly-good option (Springfield), and a pretty terrible option (Landover). Let's hope the federal government makes the right call.

Photo by Tim Evanson on Flickr.

The FBI wants to leave its aging headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, and many in the District would not be sad to see it go. The FBI, like other security-related agencies, wants a high-security fortress with impenetrable walls and what amounts to a moat. That's not ideal in downtown DC, where shops, restaurants, condominiums, and top-tier office space are all in high demand. The block-size dead zone that is the Hoover Building in its current state is bad enough.

The current FBI site does have it's upsides: it's near every single Metro line and countless buses, and since it's in the center of the region it's not very far from anyone. A new site near the Beltway, like the three finalists, all will force longer commutes on at least some people, and push more people to drive, increasing traffic.

How much traffic, however, depends very much on how close the site is to Metro. Build a new headquarters next to a Metro station and near bus lines, and many people will use it; force people to take a shuttle bus, and many fewer will bother.

The more people ride Metro, the better for all of us

Even residents who have no ties to the FBI should care deeply about this important decision. Metro is struggling from low ridership that is squeezing its budget, thanks to maintenance woes, cuts in federal transit benefits, management failures, safety fears, and much more. Our region needs a healthy Metro system to move the hordes of commuters that traverse the region every day.

One of the best ways to strengthen Metro is to use "reverse commute" capacity. Trains are the same size and number going both in and out of downtown, of course; if they're full going in but empty going out, that's a lot of wasted capacity. Large employment centers at outer stations, like at Medical Center, Suitland, and now with the Silver Line, Tysons Corner, drive that reverse traffic. Plus, research has shown that people feel much more willing to use the train if the office is very close to a transit station; a short to medium drive, walk, or bike ride is more palatable from home to the train than on the other end.

No shuttle at Greenbelt; a long shuttle at Landover

According to the recently-released Environmental Impact Statement, an FBI headquarters at Greenbelt could mean up to 47% of workers, or 5,170 people a day, could ride Metro, and they would mostly be using the extra space on reverse peak direction Green Line trains. There would only be 3,600 parking spaces, meaning at most only 3,600 more cars on the Beltway and other roads.

A site in Springfield, Virginia, is almost as good; the station is 0.3 miles from the potential site, and the General Services Administration estimates there would need to be a shuttle, though many people would not need it; this is similar to the distances at Suitland, where there is a bus but many people walk. The EIS predicts 4,070 riders, or 37% of workers, take Metro, and also 3,600 spaces.

Landover, meanwhile, is far, far worse. That site is 1.9 miles from Metro, much too far for walking and forcing everyone to ride a shuttle (which would also take longer, naturally). The EIS estimates only 19% of people ride Metro and a need for 7,300 parking spaces, or about double the added traffic.

These Metro mode share estimates do seem too high—all of them, but definitely Landover. According to public ridership data from WMATA, the Suitland and New Carrollton office parks are getting about 10% of workers riding Metro. It strains credulity that 19% of FBI workers would ride a shuttle to a site 2 miles from the station when 10% don't do the same for a much shorter half mile trip.

Suitland. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Will everyone who can't park take Metro?

Why the discrepancy? The methodology assumes strict limits on parking based on the National Capital Planning Commission's policies. NCPC limits parking to one space per three employees at federal facilities outside DC but within 2,000 feet of a Metro station, and one space per 1.5 employees farther from Metro. That's a very progressive policy that pushes federal agencies to help their employees get to work in ways other than solo driving.

The EIS assumes anyone who can't park will ride Metro, except for a carpool/vanpool rate based on similar federal installations of 10-11%. But will the FBI obey? The National Institutes of Health, right at a Metro station, has been resisting NCPC's policy; the FBI surely has even greater clout if it wanted to build massive amounts of parking. And even if it didn't, it seems doubtful that the lack of parking, while a strong motivating force, would push 19% of employees onto Metro and then a long shuttle ride.

Regardless, it's clear that a choice for Greenbelt or Springfield would help the FBI have a positive impact on Metro's health and minimize the traffic effects, while Landover would do the opposite. Because there are more jobs on the west side of the region than the east, the Beltway and other roads similarly have extra capacity going east, which is one of several reasons why adding jobs to Prince George's County also will strengthen our region.

The federal government may ignore all of the impacts on other commuters and our region's transportation systems when making the decision about a site, but drivers, Metro riders, and just all taxpayers whose dollars help fund the roads and rails should hope the choice is a wise one.

Here's a map of the highways that almost ran through DC

In the late '60s, there were plans to build the Three Sisters Bridge and elevated highway system in DC. Luckily, they fell through. A recent Washingtonian piece detailing the story made us want to re-publish GGWash editor Dan Malouff's post on just how may highway-sized bullets we've dodged:

click to enlarge
Map based on 1958 Basic Freeway Plan. Click to enlarge.

This is a map of the Washington that would have been if mid-century planners, dedicated as they were to driving and the clearance of historic neighborhoods, had their way. It's a the highway network proposed for the region during initial planning of the Eisenhower Interstate System, in 1958.

Each of these canceled highways, shown in red on the map, has its own story. Some were canceled due to civic activism, others because later proposals in the 70s preempted them, and others due to good old fashioned sanity.

Because they were never built, entire neighborhoods that might have been wiped out were saved, downtown was never physically cut off from its surroundings (except to the south), and millions of dollars were reallocated to construction of the Metro. Because these highways were canceled, Washington is the beautiful, walkable, vital city that we know and love today.

Most other American cities weren't so lucky. Their highways were built, their neighborhoods demolished, and their downtowns converted to parking lots.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Bloomingdale's First and T used to be home to part of DC's underworld

Last spring Jak & Company, a Washington hair salon, shut its doors after about 50 years in business, 27 of them at First and Rhode Island, NW. The salon's owner said gentrification was one reason the store was closing. Bloomingdale, Jak & Company's neighborhood, has changed a lot, and its history includes hidden ties to Washington's underworld.

Salon owner Latosha Jackson-Martin interviewed by a Fox 5 reporter April 13, 2015. Photo by the author.

Much of the urban change Bloomingdale has undergone is like anywhere else: early twentieth century boom times as a middle-class residential neighborhood; racial change; decline and disinvestment; and, rediscovery by new money and new people.

But for a big chunk of the 1980s and 1990s, the intersection of First and T streets NW was First Street Crew territory. The drug gang was notorious for open-air crack sales and for brazenly killing potential witnesses. And beyond the time the crew dominated, the Bloomingdale corner has long history of ties to organized crime in Washington.

DC's crack epidemic found a foothold in Bloomingdale

Crack swept through Washington in the 1980s and ruled the streets for about two decades. It was one in a string of illicit rackets where Washington's African American majority could make money on their own terms.

In 2014, former Washington Post reporter Ruben Castaneda wrote S Street Rising, an account of his time working the paper's crime beat while also struggling with a crack cocaine addiction.

First and T, Castaneda wrote, was a frequent place of purchase for him. "The crew's slinger's sold crack on both sides of 1st Street Northwest, at all hours, in all kinds of weather." In an interview, he told me about one landmark that remains vivid in his memory: a low masonry wall on the east side of First Street.

"For many years, more than ten years, there was graffiti that said, Evil Never Dies'," he recalled.

1st Street NW. In the 1980s and 1990s this was a round-the-clock crack market. Photo by the author.

Drugs were only the newest big crime problem

Before crack, the numbers and liquor ruled. First and T was one of several hotspots throughout the city where established African American families ran businesses off the books using legitimate enterprises as fronts for their operations.

There has been a liquor store at the southwest corner of First and T for decades. It doesn't look too different than it did in the 1980s and early 1990s. The large sign mounted on the roof, "Bloomingdale Center" is the same. But gone are the roll-down metal window covers and the interior Plexiglas barriers that separated employees from patrons and would-be robbers.

A white Jewish family once owned the property before an African American one bought it. The African American family—whose name I won't use to honor a source's request—has links to Washington's numbers game going back to the early twentieth century. A 1937 Washington Post article noted that the family's patriarch was one of 100 people arraigned in a single day on gambling charges. He was a well-known U Street "numbers backer."

According to newspapers and other historical sources, the Bloomingdale liquor store expanded to include check cashing. Satellite stores opened through the District of Columbia and Prince George's County. In a 1979 article, Post reporter Courtland Milloy described the operation, then owned by the family patriarch's son, as a "poor man's bank." "With the benefit of his father's lessons," Milloy wrote, the son "started his own financial establishment."

Washington legalized gambling in 1980 by creating a lottery, and Mayor Marion Barry appointed a Lottery Board the next year. In 1982 lottery ticket sales began. "After decades of illegally operating numbers games in the big cities," reported Jet magazine in 1981, "Blacks finally have gained the chance to bigtime on the side of the law."

District leaders awarded contracts to run the lottery to two firms: an established Georgia gaming company and a "a local minority-run firm" created by the Georgia firm "solely for the purpose of bidding" on the Washington contract, the Washington Post reported.

The Washington family that ran Bloomingdale's owned the local lottery firm, and they held key management positions. According to District records, its headquarters was on First Street NW, a few doors down from the liquor store. Control over the District's instant games—the scratch-off tickets—was short-lived, however, and city leaders in 1983 began cutting ties to outside contractors.

Bloomingdale is now gentrified and sanitized

Scant evidence for First and T's historic ties to Washington's African American underworld survives. The graffiti tag Castaneda recalls is gone, as are the crack slingers, numbers writers, and gangsters who once had the most lucrative business enterprises there. New immigrants now own some of the businesses in there, including the liquor store.

New businesses and new people now define First Street NW. Photo by the author.

In their place are trendy bars and restaurants with patio seating and ties to the neighborhood's new residents and a new economy. Sara Fatell opened Grassroots bakery on Rhode Island Ave. NW in 2012. She jokes that the area is nothing like the stories she's heard of the 90s.

"Do you know how many babies are in this neighborhood? Don't drink the water," Fatell says with a smile. "Everyone's on their second baby. It's all strollers and yoga mats and dogs."

When it redesigns its campus, Gallaudet hopes to pioneer architecture for the Deaf

The southwestern edge of Gallaudet University borders a growing urban center, but fences close the campus off. Now, the school is rethinking its design and redevelop some of its land to bolster finances. To do this, it's reimagining 6th Street NE as a corridor that zips together deaf and hearing communities.

Gallaudet's 6th Street gate is not exactly community-friendly. Photo by the author.

Gallaudet is using two projects to create the first urban environment designed for the deaf. First, it's redesigning its public spaces, including the 6th Street streetscape, the campus grounds, and a few small buildings. Second, it's developing four large parcels of land that front 6th Street NE.

As the world's only university for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Gallaudet has a set of design guidelines the school calls DeafSpace; the redesigns will fit with both that and the 10-year master plan that zoning requires.

Base image from Google Maps.

Gallaudet wants new buildings and new ideas for tailoring its design to the Deaf

Gallaudet's main entrance on Florida Avenue NE is nearly half a mile from where Union Market, the neighborhood's new attraction, sits on 6th Street. Redeveloping the parking garages and auxiliary buildings there will tie the campus to its surroundings without harming its historic campus by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., who also designed Central Park.

JBG's conceptual plan for the 6th Street development project. Image from JBG/Gallaudet.

A large part of the development plan has already started. In 2014, the school selected the developer JBG and architect Morris Adjmi; the team behind the Atlantic Plumbing project at 8th & V NW, to build 1.3 million square feet of building on the parcels.

Gallaudet has already used internal workshops and two design processes to pioneer a way of designing spaces for the Deaf. The school wants to stay innovative in this field as moves forward, so it's holding a two-part design competition to shape its public spaces.

For now, it's gathering input from neighboring communities and asking for designers to form teams with specializations like interaction design in addition to architecture and urban planning.

A panel will narrow those teams down to just a handful in October, and the teams will then submit rough designs for feedback from the student and neighborhood communities. After a round of revisions, a jury of experts will pick a winning approach in February.

Using a competition allows Gallaudet to draw on a range of expertise that goes beyond the immediate community, which is important given that this is the school's largest planning endeavor to date.

The Gallaudet master plan emphasizes connections towards the NoMa-Gallaudet Metro. Image from Gallaudet.

Creating spaces for deaf people presents unique challenges

Gallaudet is promising vibrant streets and high standards of sustainability, both of which are now common in DC projects. But making spaces for deaf people will require designers to think a little harder than usual.

Gallaudet developed its DeafSpace guidelines when it realized its campus didn't suit how the Deaf use buildings and streets. The guidelines go way beyond the "universal design" requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Instead of focusing just on patches for audiological deafness, uncapitalized, DeafSpace is custom tailored to culture shared by people participating in Deaf (capitalized) communities.

It's not an overstatement to say there's a distinct Deaf Culture. Many of our social norms, from how we say goodbye to what kind of art we enjoy, rely on hearing. The Deaf have different norms, and the way they talk is also different from English speakers. Although most deaf students can read and write English, American Sign Language is an entirely distinct language, with different grammar, vocabulary, and dialects.

In sign language, a single hand sign changes meaning depending on where the signer makes it, its orientation, movement, and what their facial expression is. To communicate in ASL, you need to see the whole upper body. A bar with low, intimate lighting will kill an ASL conversation the same way loud background music does for the hearing.

DeafSpace concept diagrams. Dangermond Keane Architecture / Gallaudet

Since Deaf Culture prefers clear vision and generous personal space, those are the conceptual building blocks. Sign language requires people to stand further apart and use more space, so, hallways have to be wider. Signers have to keep their hands free, so in DeafSpace, there are as few manually opening doors as possible.

If a deaf person can't see through a door, they can't tell if someone's in a room, so windows are helpful. But at the same time, an ASL user can spy on a conversation through that glass. In this case, translucency balances the competing needs. In general, reflective surfaces on cabinets or walls a deaf person might often face help with spatial awareness. Even paint helps: blue walls help hands and faces pop no matter the skin tone.

DeafSpace is a distillation of these needs and solutions into what the architectural theorist Christopher Alexander calls "patterns:" generic rules and forms that a designer can combine to create a multifunctional, comfortable space. The leader of the DeafSpace project, Hansel Bauman, sees it as a way of designing spaces around Deaf interactions and experiences.

But DeafSpace has few patterns that apply to open areas and urban space. Do crosswalks have to heighten visibility? If sidewalks have to be wider, do they cut into sidewalk cafes and increase the area of surfaces impermeable to rainwater? There are a lot of new issues open spaces present. I think bringing more brainpower to these issues is why Gallaudet is holding the design competition.

Plus, Bauman wants to take the concept further, to design spaces more tightly around human behaviors and sensations, irrespective of specific abilities. That might seem basic, but between a tendency to stick to financially proven conventions or get lost in an artistic vision, it's easy to forget the human interaction behind the built environment. The competition could bring this idea some much needed attention.

Tailoring an urban space for Deaf experience may force competing teams to get back to basics about how spaces facilitate interaction between people. Maybe the competition will let designers to reexamine the patterns of design for a sidewalk cafe or a multi-story building's front door.

The Flipboard Cafe in Melbourne, Australia has complex connection to the street. Brolly Design

Gallaudet's decision to open up its campus to a pedestrian-friendly, dense 6th Street is an extremely promising step. One step further would be taking the focus on buildings as amplifiers of social interaction and applying that design across the city.

Learn important concepts in designing buildings from an HBO series

HBO's miniseries Show Me a Hero depicts a fight over affordable housing in Yonkers, New York in the 1980s. It raises many important issues about race relations and the reality of politics. It also teaches us something about architecture and how the design of buildings affects crime.

Public housing in New Orleans. Photo by Culture:Subculture Photography on Flickr.

Episodes 3 and 4 aired Sunday night. In one scene, Oscar Newman, the architect of the new housing, argues vehemently that it's important to build townhouses, each with its own entrance to the street, instead of two-unit buildings with common stairs. This is because, he says, people will defend and keep up their own private space, while a common space will more easily fall into disrepair and provide a haven for drug dealing.

He calls this "defensible space," a term the real Oscar Newman coined and used as the title of his most famous book.

Newman also argues that to avoid the same problems that plague the city's existing housing projects, it's also important to spread the housing out to several smaller sites rather than a few big ones. This will mean public housing near more voters' homes, but it avoids concentrating poverty in one place, which often leads to crime.

In the scene, Judge Sand and NAACP lawyer Michael Sussman are initially dismissive of Newman's concerns. They think that just getting the housing established is enough of a victory. They don't want to do anything to increase the cost, which could add new obstacles. But Newman prevails.

Peter Riegert as Oscar Newman. Image from HBO.

How "defensible space" works

A front porch that leads directly from the sidewalk to a home is "defensible" in that people know that it is "their" porch. A shared hallway or courtyard doesn't breed that same feeling of ownership and people are less likely to confront a problem in that space.

Writer David Simon illustrates defensible space is throughout the series. One of the earliest scenes in the first episode shows Carmen, a public housing resident, taking her kids to their apartment up the stairs instead of the elevator despite having an arm full of groceries because drug dealers had taken over the communal elevator.

Mary Dorman, a strident opponent of the housing integration plan, says that she works very hard to take care of her home and her street and that is why she opposes the new housing. She is then left awkwardly scrambling after a news reporter asks here why she doesn't think that any new residents won't do the same.

Meanwhile, Nick Wasicsko stands on the porch of a house he wants to buy. He revels in a view of Manhattan that is about to be "his" view that he feels he has worked hard for. The show is saying that even if the problems can seem obvious, the causes and their solutions often are not.

Co-op housing in Shaw, DC. Photo by Marie In Shaw on Flickr.

It matters if buildings face the street

Those of us who learned a lot about planning from Jane Jacobs are familiar with the concept of "eyes on the street," where people actually coming and going from the street itself make a place safer. This wasn't always a well-known concept, and Newman was instrumental here as well.

In the show, Newman argues that buildings which directly access the street, rather than facing parking lots or courtyards, will give people ownership of all of the space from the building to the street and eliminate any space for drug dealing.

This very issue affected low-income housing across the nation, including in Sursum Corda, a public housing cooperative where most units faced inward instead of out to the street. The shared space became a haven for crime and prompted efforts to redevelop the complex.

Other public housing has been built to blend in with the fabric of the neighborhood, with front doors that face the street and personal spaces for residents to care for. Capitol Crossing in Navy Yard and the mix of public housing near the Southwest Waterfront are good examples of better ways to provide inclusive housing.

Defensible Space isn't the solution to every crime, but is an important tool for many planners and architects looking to create valuable and cherished places.

The final two episodes air this Sunday on HBO.

See a history of the American single-family home in one poster

Here's a 400-year history of the American single-family house, all in one image. It includes over 100 types of house and spans seven historical eras.

All images from Pop Chart Lab.

Artists at the Pop Chart Lab created a poster of houses that range from Spanish Colonials to mobile and A-frame homes to McMansions and row houses.

What American houses actually look like, along with how they have changed over history, can teach us a lot about how we got to where we are now. For example, people used to live a lot closer together, and in smaller homes. Lots of people now want bigger houses for smaller families, which affects how we use the land we've got.

Lots of house types have subsets, like these Second Empire houses.

Another great way to learn about the history of our homes is by visiting the House and Home exhibit at the National Building Museum.

Which house types do you see around our region? Which ones are in your neighborhood? What kind of house do you live in?

Plans for renovating the MLK Library have changed to meet preservation standards

Late last month, plans to renovate DC's downtown library got a key approval from the District's Historic Preservation Review Board. The overall design approach is the same, but the details have changed.

Current design for the MLK Library. Image from DCPL.

The HPRB designates buildings as landmarks and reviews potential alterations to those buildings up. While divisive, the MLK Library, a modernist building completed in 1972, is registered as a national landmark.

The approved plans have changed a lot from the scheme that the design team, Mecanoo and Martinez+Johnson, won the project with. A mixed-use building was too hard to finance and the designers tweaked the plans based on community feedback. But fixing the building's flaws within historic preservation rules has been the toughest challenge for designers, and those concerns have been the driver behind the biggest design changes.

Last Thursday's approval is a key step for the project in terms of moving forward. The design the HPRB approved is the result of several rounds of review by HPRB, Washington's other project review boards, DC's professional Historic Preservation Office and the Federal Cultural Resources, or Section 106, process. But because MLK renovation poses big historic preservation questions while having little impact on the environment or federal operations, the other agencies are looking at to HPRB's decision. That means this design is close to being final.

The design uses similar ideas as before but has a more conservative look

The 2014 competition design proposed a few open-ended alterations to the building: removing interior walls, retrofitting the façade for energy efficiency, opening up the ground floor, swapping opaque stair enclosures for transparent ones, and adding some kind of top that strongly contrasted with the historic structure.

Sketch diagram of key changes: new stairs, cafe, and an addition on top. Image from DCPL/NCPC.

Now, the new flor takes the shapeof a black trapezoid so it's less visible from the street. Glass skylights bring light to the basement instead of light wells. What was an oval auditorium between the fourth and fifth floors in last year, has moved to a rectangular space the center, to better riff off the geometry of the 1972 building's original designer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Curvilinear roof addition from last fall. Image from NCPC.

Because of this process, there were only two contentious issues for the board to rule on. They are glassy expanses that would replace tan brick walls. One is a set of doors in the center of the great hall. They lead to the first floor multipurpose space, which replaces a loading dock.

The Great Hall with glass partitions to a new assembly space. Image from DCPL.

The other is a pair of glass walls separating the entry vestibule and the two stair "cores" that frame it. Moving the cores has never been controversial. When they built the library, Mies and his office designed a circulation pattern better suited to a high-rise. The designers' goal was to move them so, as architect Tom Johnson quipped, "you don't have to ask at the desk" how to go upstairs.

The most recent design for the lobby entryway. Image from DCPL.

The renovation design team originally wanted to demolish the core walls on all floors and replace them with semi-transparent glass ones, so the stairs would be easy to find.

The semi-transparent cores envisioned last fall. Image from DCPL.

HPO and designers couldn't agree on how much brick to remove

The District's Historic Preservation Office found that this approach was too extreme. They recommended instead that the renovation only remove a small recessed area in the vestibule and a few nearby metal panels. In January, HPRB steered the designers toward keeping more of the tank brick walls, especially in areas like the ground floor, that HPRB had designated as having special significance in a set of renovation guidelines.

Existing vestibule, with recessed notch. Photo by the author.

Since the stair core walls can't be transparent on all five floors, the architects have worked hard to make the stairs exciting. Still, they found they just couldn't avoid opening up the cores at the entryway. So while they were able to reach an agreement with the preservation office on other issues, they got stuck here.

The new design for the stairwell has a central opening. Image from DCPL.

The proposed stairways now are curved spaces. Image from DCPL.

So why was HPO so opposed to removing the bricks? Public comments on the renovation frequently criticized them. In its first round of comments, HPO took what might sound like a startling stance on the entire renovation, writing "[HPO] believes that all alternatives besides A (No Action) would have an adverse affect on the building, due to loss of historic fabric."

Preservation looks at buildings as evidence of history

"Historic fabric" means the physical substance of the building. As historic preservation law grew stronger, advocates worried that restorations often meant editing them to fit biased perspectives, effectively re-writing history. Preservationists had seen plenty of artifacts go into the dumpster.

In Old Town Alexandria, preservation mavens replaced working-class Victorian details like lamps with tonier recreations of Colonial Revival fixtures. In the UK, early agencies cut up ruins to make them fit a fanciful understanding of the Middle Ages. Architects "corrected" centuries-old monuments, demolishing irreplaceable archaeological features in the process.

To make restoration "objective," preservationists changed their methods. They wouldn't try to reconstruct a building's ideal state. Instead, they'd treating sites more like records of historical changes. Preservation laws started to preserve everything within a "period of significance," irrespective of whether it's "good design" or flattering to history.

Demolition of the surviving parts of a historic building was discouraged. Alterations would instead have to be clearly distinguishable additions.

You can see this attitude where developers move entire buildings around to preserve them, keeping wooden windows in Columbia Heights, or storing a small piece of marble removed from the Kennedy Center.

The federal government collected these rules into a document called the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. This document informs the Historic Preservation Office follows when it makes recommendations.

More importantly, the Principles of Rehabilitation are the basis of of the design guidelines created for the library. They designated those first-floor brick walls the designers want to swap for glass as particularly important.

An inviting entrance wins out

I think this all makes a lot of sense. A building can't offer a meaningful connection to the past if its evidence tells a made-up story. And for every brilliant renovation there are a hundred bad ones proposed as well. So, the approach is conservative, with HPRB existing to allow more discretion. That's what happened here.

What HPRB technically did was "approve and delegate," which means that the big, conceptual issues were resolved. Their comments instruct the professional staff at HPO how to bring everyone into agreement.

Several HPRB members endorsed the design team's proposal to make the entry more inviting by removing as much of the brick walls as the renovation team wanted. Nancy Metzger said, "I've always hated walking into this building… I think it should be more open." Other members echoed her and even called for removing more brick.

But to preserve the existing building's s spatial effects, they suggested making the glass less transparent. That way, patrons would see the activity inside, but wouldn't assume the glass side walls are doors, and they would feel compelled to enter.

To achieve this, board members suggested adjustments to the glass through ceramic glazing called frits, shades, or metal mesh built into the glass. Board member Graham Davidson pushed the idea further, asking to replace the proposed window frames, which Mecanoo designed to match the first floor's walls, with a flat, monolithic surface that recalled the monolithic surface of the existing brick.

The metal embedded in the Des Moines Public Library's walls works like a two-way mirror. From the darker interior,, you can easily look out. Photo by toddmundt on Flickr.

I think this is a very sophisticated compromise. The metal mesh option, in particular, might call back to the chain curtains used by Mies and Philip Johnson at the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building in New York, while clearly being a technology from a different time and place. Similarly, Mies and his office used the shape of frames to tweak the sense of transparency, including at the library. This approach could permit even more removal of the first floor cores and a more inviting space in front of the building.

Most recent plan of the top floor. Image from DCPL.

The glassy design also follows the recommendations of the Commission of Fine Arts, which has pushed for a more radical, intellectual renovation, including a more engaging entrance. So, with the big issue resolved, the design will likely progress smoothly through the rest of Washington's interconnected design review environment.

The prohibition against the loss of historic fabric was instituted to preserve alterations that gave insight into subsequent users' time and place, not just the origianl. For buildings built after landmark laws came into effect might never get the chance to incorporate that kind of historical record.

A cafe would replace the garage entry on 9th street. Image from DCPL.

If the rest of the design process goes well, that may be what happens here. This alteration may be deemed significant as well, as a desire to balance preservation and vibrancy in rejuvenated downtowns.

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