Posts by Neil Flanagan
|Neil Flanagan grew up in Ward 3 before graduating from the Yale School of Architecture. He writes on architecture and Russia at цarьchitect.|
Architects Eric Colbert and Associates shared renderings of the latest design for their proposed apartment building at 5333 Connecticut Avenue. Few renderings of the project have been available until now, so it's been difficult to understand how it will look.
The design depicted in the renderings is substantially the same as the one presented at an ANC3G meeting in August, when commissioners voted for the Memorandum of Understanding with developer Cafritz.
Colbert applies planes of glass and white frames to a glass block in manner similar to the neomodernist apartment buildings of Richard Meier. Two of those buildings are regarded as kicking off the trend for glass-enclosed apartment buildings in New York.
The sides of the building that face single family homes have significantly fewer windows, addressing the light pollution concerns the neighbors are reasonably worried about. Having such an dramatic transition from one side to another puts a lot of pressure on the corner, architecturally. Colbert negotiates this shift with a line of windows on the edge of the Kanawha Street wing, shown above. Whether this shift succeeds will depend on how transparent the glass appears at a given time of day.
The change of transparency is driven by the sun, whose heat and light are serious concerns in a glazed building. The renderings show similar treatments on both the north and south elevations of the building. That much glass on the southern exposure will lead to an excess in heat in light, but on the northern side, the glass might also abate the worries about shadows by reflecting light down to the street.
To me, the building is the most successful at the edges of the projections from the sides of the building. There, the relationship between interior walls and the opaque frame around the edge makes it feel like volumes have slid out from the building. This could have been a simplistic, cheesy move, but Colbert's office wove translucent balcony railings into the white frame. The result is a sensitive corner, a feature often absent in glass-heavy modern architecture.
Unfortunately, this sensitivity is absent where the building touches the ground. Considering that the ground has been so controversial, the design would be better if the walls changed as they met the landscape designed by Trini Rodriguez. Whether becoming more solid, showing the weight of the building, or simply transitioning from vertical to horizontal, this relationship is key to producing a building that feels appropriate for its site.
Developer Cafritz has stated their desire to have a building that is contemporary and of its time, and meant "glass." However, glass is only "modern" when it calls attention to relationships of inside and outside, ground and sky, and between the people who look through it as neighbors. Like any materials, how a window shapes our environment is more important than the sheer technological thrill of transparency.
Facebook will help finance an apartment complex for employees and low-income households near its Menlo Park, California headquarters. It's the city's first housing development in 20 years. Will Anton Menlo be a 21st-century "company town," or could it ease Silicon Valley's transportation and housing issues?
In a new feature, we asked 5 contributors to offer their thoughts.
Facebook's sponsorship is really the only unusual feature of this project. Developers are already large corporations who must look for investors that believe the profitability of a project. The kind of directness Facebook brings does cast a specter of trying to insulate and isolate the residents. Given that there's not much street life around it, isolation might be unavoidable. If the street urbanizes further, this might get more complicated.
Here, as is common when large suburban properties become residential complexes, developers often fill out street networks that remain private. Perhaps what we should worry about is how much of this new urban vitality remains exclusive. Bringing it closer to home, the private courtyard at CityCenter DC looks really promising as an urban space. How will it shape up as a public space? Will the whole city feel welcome there?
Facebook's current and future headquarters buildings in relation to the Anton Menlo.
I first heard about the new Facebook apartments from ValleyWag, which said the project includes "all the comforts of suburbia" and proceeded to tear down particular aspects on the project including the fact that it is compact and walkable. It's reflective of an attitude that I often see expressed in a lot of thinking about our built areas, that usually boils down to the argument that the suburbs are "fake" and the city is "real."
Instead of worrying about authenticity, I would prefer that we would worry about the factors we can control. Is it walkable? Are the public spaces inviting and successful? Is there diversity in the design? Would I feel comfortable biking in the street? I think those are the important things to consider, rather than the name or company behind the construction.
I applaud any attempt to build infill multifamily in Silicon Valley, and corporate leadership as part of a broader effort to reshape the Valley, but few individual employers can hope to constructively engage such a vast problem.
Upon first glance, Anton Menlo's site plan doesn't looks too surprising: a typical "Texas donut," similar to other wood-frame apartments you see around, say, the Vienna Metro station. Half of the roadways will read as streets, with sidewalks and parallel parking, and the much-ballyhooed amenities aren't atypical for new apartments these days.
Media ruckus aside, Facebook isn't diversifying into town-building, and understandably so, since such corporate experiments in non-core businesses have a poor track record (perhaps aside from university towns). Instead, it's simply supporting a suburban apartment developer with experience in the matter, but also a formulaic product.
Yet this location contributes to the Valley's record of poorly coordinated planning: it's marooned between warehouses, the Bay, and a freeway, a location perhaps
akin to these apartments in Alexandria's Eisenhower Valley. Building housing close to work is a nice idea, but this particular implementation undermines, rather than facilitates, the Valley's emergence as an urban place.
Company housing, such as Facebook is developing, could be helpful in creating a sense of community among its employees just as military housing does in the military. The high tech business is a volatile one, and it demands long hours from its employees.
Having neighbors who understand those demands might ease some of the high stress of working in that industry. If Facebook employees/tenants decide they don't like living there or don't want to be so dependent upon Facebook, their salaries make it possible for them to move elsewhere.
Amazon.com went the opposite direction of Facebook. It chose to locate its offices in a benighted corner of Seattle, adjacent its heart. It turned South Lake Union around and is now a strong anchor along the city's streetcar and light rail stations.
Investments from other large companies helped turn around downtown Detroit and downtown Las Vegas, too. Though Menlo Park is not a prime urban center like Seattle, its strong bones have been weakened by parking lots and the signs of suburbia.
Yet rather than invest near its high-capacity Caltrain station, the heart of downtown, Facebook chose to redevelop an industrial site 3 miles away, on the other side of a freeway. While housing plus offices is certainly a step forward from the office park, one hopes our cities and suburban town centers will see more Amazons, not more Facebooks.
What do you think about this project? How involved should employers be in the real estate choices of their employees? Got an idea for future GGW debates posts? Let us know in the comments.
After decades of fighting, work began last month on a new residential building at 5333 Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase. While neighbors had few good reasons to oppose it, the project embodies the loopholes developers use in DC's patchwork of building regulations and zoning.
The 261-unit building has long been approved as matter-of-right. It will not be a great building, but it is legal, and further appeals from residents to stop construction will only reduce their credibility in the future. Elaborate delay tactics will only reduce developers' willingness to cooperate with them.
On the other hand, the opponents' objections do reveal how Calvin Cafritz Enterprises designed the building to be as large as possible, using a thorough knowledge of DC's regulations. Architects Eric Colbert and Associates employed clever interpretations of what constitutes a "cellar," adding living space beyond the site's allowed density. The building's height was determined using the most favorable location of measurement.
However, the 5333 Connecticut Neighborhood Coalition doesn't simply want these irregularities fixed, they want a smaller building. They want a smaller building because they believe the effects of density will "harm" their community. They claim that added activity, reduced sunlight, and reduced tree canopy will degrade their quality of life.
Instead of looking for creative solutions to minor problems, they have chosen to fight the building itself. Rather than promoting uniform regulation across the city, opponents are using legal objections as easy tools to prevent a permissible project.
Recognizing that they have no legal standing, the majority of the ANC commissioners negotiated a memorandum of understanding that stipulated a number of design improvements for energy use and multimodalism. The four commissioners who voted for it were those closest to the project. The three who worked on the memorandum of understanding represented the areas that were most directly affected. The dissenting commissioners were in the suburban part of ANC3G, east of Broad Branch Road.
Despite the negotiations, opponents went ahead to protest the building at the Board of Zoning Adjustment. Given that there is no evidence that what Cafritz and Colbert have planned is illegal, the BZA should dismiss the complaints out of hand to avoid setting a precedent whereby the affluent and the influential preserve the narrow, short-term interests of their property at the expense of the rest of the city.
Opponents' case looks good at first, but lacks depth
With a little digging, it becomes clear that the 5333 CNC has no case against the building.
The project uses two sides of the building to calculate the height, a standard practice explicitly permitted by the Height of Buildings Act. Height must be measured from the existing elevation of the curb across from the middle of the mass of the front of building and height is determined by the width of the wider of the two streets it abuts.
Kanawha is narrower, but it is also at a higher elevation. Using the longstanding interpretation of the law, the Cafritz organization declared the Kanawha side the "front" and gained a few extra feet of height.
Opponents use a document from the Zoning Update process to show that this approach is unpopular but elide that the zoning update closes this idiosyncrasy in section 502.3, defining the height as originating from the midpoint of the facade that is closest to the lot line.
They further claim that the roof deck is 1.73 feet above the legal height because of how the development team calculates the Kanawha street frontage. The permitting calculations include portions of the facade of the longer, Military Road wing visible from Kanawha Street. The developer's midpoint is about 50' to the east, and 1.73 feet higher in natural elevation, allowing for the building to be that much taller.
A plain reading of the regulation suggests that this is permissible, if kind of tacky. Perhaps the regulation should be rewritten. Either way, the developer conceded this issue in the MOU, and will lower the building.
A similarly shrewd, but legal, reading of code adds habitable spaces in a "cellar story" that does not add to the official FAR. Regulations distinguish "cellars" from "basements," where a basement is simply below the entry floor, and a cellar is a space whose ceilings are no more than four feet above the adjacent grade.
The architect designed the finished grade to hide a string of apartments along Military Road, but also excavated an full-height window well in front of them. This "areaway" also appears in the interior courtyard, projecting into berms in the central courtyard.
DC classifies areaways and parking vaults as projections from the building, and every story of a sub-grade projection is considered independently of all others. Therefore, their claim that the berms around the areaways are "planters" is at some level correct, but not according to the regulations.
I agree with the opponents that this common interpretation of the regulation is sneaky. The city should revisit this regulation, not because density is bad, but because it is opaque to the public.
The final legal challenge in the opponents' BZA testimony is that the Military Road wing of the building extends beyond the plot of land zoned as R-5-D by 40 feet. A 1965 amendment extended the zoning of the plot to a length of 290 feet on Military. The zoning maps in 1966 and 1973 show this number. For some reason, from 1975-2003, the numerical description of the zoning plat appears as 251'. The graphical description of the lot remains the same, following the existing alley.
Neither side can find why the number was changed. Cafritz's lawyer claims that it is a misreading of the lettering of the 5/9, which I find unconvincing. Opponents have no better case, claiming without proof that the ZC wanted to prevent inappropriate growth and so changed it. The current, digital zoning map shows the current line ending at the alley, as consistent with all maps since 1966.
The opponents' limited familiarity with development issues extends beyond legal practices and into architecture. In response to the MOU, opponents write that they are for "practical, modest changes that would not require wholesale redesign," including shifting the mass towards Connecticut Avenue and creating a "buffer zone."
However, re-masssing a building is a redesign at a fundamental level. Foundations, floor structure, column placement, parking spaces, circulation routes, apartment layout, pipe routing, curtainwall drawings, and even the landscaping plan would have to be redone. Other than a few design motifs, there isn't much work left to save.
By suggesting that their objections are simple, legitimate, and simply resolved, opponents are disguising their desire to have as little built on the site as possible. It's hard to believe that anyone would put up this much of a fight over less than two feet of height and a cellar.
Fighting a legal building discourages collaboration in growth
The majority of the legal objections are in response to loopholes that will be resolved by the update of the zoning code initiated under Harriet Tregoning. The other dubious interpretations should be resolved uniformly across the city. It is unfair to reject these rules in this case specifically when so many other projects have employed them.
It's not fair to other communities if this building is an exception. Closing loopholes would benefit the city by making the development process more predictable for the public.
Tellingly, the opponents of 5333 Connecticut do not want to resolve these regulatory flukes. At a September 15th meeting, Peter Gosselin, one of the 5333 CNC's leaders specifically said he would not ask for city-wide change to any of their complaints.
More locally, all of the objections could be resolved by removing one floor of the building. They are not asking for that either. The 5333 CNC are asking for the Cafritz team to come back and negotiate for their own property on the neighbors' terms.
The developer was under no legal obligation to engage the community. But that does not mean that they shouldn't have. In an ideal world, developers should go into communities in a transparent and open-ended way.
New projects often alter the dynamics of neighborhoods, and developers should work with communities to make a new building amplify the value new residents bring while minimizing the negatives through walkability and sensitive design. Similarly, neighbors should recognize the need for a city to grow and respect others' property rights.
With that in mind, I can't blame the Cafritz organization for not asking permission. The strife over this project is part of long-term context of opposing development through extremely effective legal means. Whether it is the lawsuits that delayed the Cathedral Commons project for ten years or the defeat of the Upper Wisconsin Avenue Corridor Study through lobbying, the neighborhood has shown that it has the means to oppose legal changes.
If I were a developer, I would choose the least complicated permitting option and hire an architect who can get me the most out of the zoning envelope. In other words, I would build matter-of-right and hire Eric Colbert.
The process for this building has proceeded so poorly because Upper Northwest's anti-development groups have consistently punished developers without providing guidelines that are commensurate with the demographic realities of 21st-century Washington. Even when developers try to work with neighbors, as at the Akridge and Babe's projects, they have faced stiff anti-urbanism groups. Now, a dangerous cross between the cost of collaboration and the desirability of the land ensures that development in Upper Northwest will proceed without community input for the forseeable future.
In the current political climate, only large developers, working with the government can handle the risks of Upper Northwest. That is the reality a handful of vocal opponents have earned multiple neighborhoods.
The only way out is for residents to take a broader perspective towards the issues a growing city faces, and propose a vision for development that integrates new residents and buildings into a diverse city. It is up to citizens to begin that kind of planning.
Ward 3 has seen a lot of changes in the last few years and faces exciting opportunities for urbanization, particularly DC's highest neighborhood. Next Saturday, learn about Tenleytown's future with Ward3Vision and the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
At the beginning of 2003, Tenleytown's retail strip was in its twentieth year of decline, with stores closing and vitality crippled by decades of persistent opposition to development. Despite sitting directly atop of a Metro station, the former Sears at the center of Tenleytown could not attract a tenant.
That year, several major retailers had moved into a subdivided Sears building, now sporting an arcing gray crown of 208 condominiums. Today, the area around the Tenleytown metro station has seen revived buildings, new restaurants, and bustling sidewalks. However, the neighborhood still has more potential than results. Public involvement is needed to carefully integrate new density into the existing neighborhoods without sacrificing either.
Next Saturday, join Ward3Vision and the Coalition for Smarter Growth for a stroll around Tenleytown. Open to all, the walking tour will visit key sites in the area, looking at current projects like the AU Law School as well as recent ones. Which projects are successful, and why? How have other projects failed at creating livable, walkable spaces?
The event will meet at the eastern entrance to the Tenleytown-AU metro station at 10am. It will run two hours and involve lots of walking. Help Ward 3 Vision by registering now and wearing comfortable footwear on the 28th. We hope to see you there!
When NPR moved its headquarters in April, the music division had little fun with the trip. They called up the band OK Go to make an episode of the Tiny Desk Concert series. The results are pretty cute:
Being a Greater Greater Washington contributor, I couldn't help but notice all of the recent construction and development! You get a great look at the variety of the city as they move from Mt. Vernon Square to North Capitol Street.
NPR's real estate history matches Washington's economic changes over the past 40 years. When it was founded in 1971, its offices were at 16th & I Streets, next to the brutalist First Church, which was the core of DC's declining downtown.
It's first purpose-built offices were on M Street in the West End, which lasted until NPR moved to the then-dilapidated Mt. Vernon Square in 1994. Now that downtown real estate prices spread north and east, they've relocated to a building in NoMa, designed by DC-based firm Hickock Cole.
Among all of the new DC public libraries, the Bellevue and Francis Gregory branches east of the river have the strongest design. Without sacrificing functionality and accessibility, they put sophisticated works of architecture in historically underserved neighborhoods. But photos don't tell the whole story. You have to go see them yourself.
Designed by British architect David Adjaye, who's also designing the Museum of African-American History and Culture, the libraries are a reminder that it's possible for a work of world-class architecture to also be a comfortable third place.
When the first renderings of the new libraries were published, I was unimpressed by them. But after a day-long excursion to see all of the libraries built under the tenure of library director Ginnie Cooper, I have to admit that I was surprised at how brilliant Bellevue and Francis Gregory are.
Unlike the new libraries at Benning, Anacostia, Tenleytown, and Shaw, which were designed by Freelon Group and Davis Brody Bond, Adjaye's libraries don't have an immediately recognizable, iconic look.
They're both fairly straightforward. Bellevue Library is a box pierced with skylight shafts and a few large "pods" in front. Francis Gregory library is a diamond-patterned box, filled with blocks to divide the space. What distinguishes them is how Adjaye and associate architect, Wiencek+Associates, divide the spaces with layers of books, glass, and glossy surfaces that produce a warm, flexible environment.
Both libraries use glass to interact with the street
Glass is an important part of Adjaye's recent projects, like the Moscow's Skolkovo School of Management, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, or the Whitechapel Idea Store in London, which like Bellevue and Gregory is a library in an inner-city neighborhood.
Adjaye doesn't use glass to erase a building's form like so many modern office buildings. Although the architects typically want the building to be transparent, minimizing the difference between outside and inside, this effect only works under the right light. Otherwise it's a mirror or it's so dark you can't see the building. This is why we see so many depictions at the twilight "rendering hour." Dusk is the only time when, because the interior of a building is as bright as the exterior, the glass disappears.
Instead, Adjaye uses what are usually undesirable reflections to multiply the sensation of the building's surroundings. Viewing the Gregory Library from dead on, the alternating diamonds of gray mirror and clear glass playfully juxtapose reflections of the neighborhood with views of the interior.
Moving to the side, the reflectivity of the clear glass increases, and the diamonds, the walls, and the building disappear more and more into its wooded site, leaving a steel canopy soaring above a symmetrical forest. In the back, the building disappears. In the front, inside and outside are superimposed on each other, reminding viewers that both are public spaces.
The Bellevue Library has a stronger street presence, but it still plays with openness and transparency. Its glass facade creates a relationship between the interior and the street. Adjaye placed windows to provide clear views out to the sidewalk. Outside, glulam beams, a kind of timber, help screen the interior and heighten the transparency by cutting glare on the windows.
Like a sidewalk cafe, Bellevue's front room "pods" become wonderful places to observe city life while feeling comfortably separate from it.
Inside, reflective surfaces create a sense of place
Inside the Bellevue Library, the wide-open spaces are divided by different-colored sheets of glass that reflect and distort views. Black glass hides the bathrooms on the first floor, while upstairs, dark yellow glazing hides the glare from a skylight. Through the glass partitions you can see to the other end of the library, through several sheets of glass. However, because each pane is also reflecting its surroundings, you see transparent images of the space you're in, with other reflections giving readers the feeling of being in an intimate, private room.
Dark, reflective walls also add to both libraries' sense of place. They use the well-worn trick of implying space behind the wall's surface, "opening it up," while avoiding the hokiness of an optical mirror. They bring light in from outside, and mix it with the colors of the room they contain.
Both the dark walls and the translucent glass let readers sense their surroundings, but loosen the figure of reflected individuals. A viewer can perceive a presence without having to worry about staring or even looking up. To have that kind of casual awareness while focusing on a book felt very relaxing.
However, the most astonishing use of reflective surfaces is in the story room at the Gregory Library. Physically, it's just an oval room bounded by walls of vertical lumber. Every other piece is removed at a child's eye level and the resulting slots are painted gloss black. Within the wall reflect in the trees, books, and structure through drawing in street scenes. As you move around, the angles change and the reflections move and blur, like you're animating them.
See buildings in real-life, not renderings
Neither the Bellevue or Gregory libraries have a "wow" moment. They are very much about the experience of individuals in the spaces the building creates. Because the architecture relies on a person's physical presence, it's hard to understand through a photograph. In fact, the images I've seen are less beautiful than the ambiance of the building.
In 2013, architecture is seen mostly through carefully curated images. An architect's largest audience is often on the web, who will consume and discard architecture through images. Renderings, because they look almost real, can be the most misleading. This emphasis on the photograph feeds back on itself to aggravate a fixation on "iconic" buildings, whose memorable images can be telegraphed around the world and recognized instantly.
But the people who are most affected by a work of architecture, whether positively or negatively, are the ones who live with the building. Dramatic architectural gestures are only so relevant to the creation of great urban spaces. Often, they're detrimental to to the sense of place.
More than anything, Adjaye's buildings remind me that to understand a work of architecture, you have to visit it. The basic architectural elements of space, program, and material are so interrelated that the quality of the buildings is impossible to capture. Don't trust me, and don't try to form an opinion during your lunch break. Go east of the river and see for yourself.
Cross-posted on цarьchitect.
The Kennedy Center yesterday unveiled an expansion plan to build 3 new pavilions, including one in the Potomac River, along with pedestrian bridges across Rock Creek Parkway and to the east. The project would partly alleviate some of the Kennedy Center's 1960s urban design errors.
It connects the 1.5 million-square-foot arts center to the river, as its designers originally imagined, and as many have proposed since. The addition will principally house the center's extensive music education classes, although it includes rehearsal space and some smaller performing spaces.
Designed by the office of New York architect Steven Holl, the $100 million plan consists of 3 pavilions. Two rest on top of a 3-story plinth, and the other one sits on a floating platform in the Potomac. Bridges will span Rock Creek Parkway to connect the landside and riverside sections, finally connecting the massive balcony of the Kennedy Center to the ground.
The plinth is the key to the project, allowing the architects to connect the addition to the new building without degrading Edward Durell Stone's marble box. Holl used a similar scheme to add a large addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. Blending this plinth into the onramps of the Roosevelt Bridge creates the appearance that it is part of the landscape, with small objects on top of it. The plinth is stepped down on the land side, to let light in to the rehearsal spaces and create privacy amid the highway mess.
Down the ramps, the riverside pavilion will house a stage for small performances. Located right on the Rock Creek multi-use trail, it would break up a loud, boring stretch of the trail. Passers-by might find a show to linger at. Parents could bring kids to music classes by bike, then enjoy time to themselves without getting back into cars. Importantly, it connects the project to the Georgetown waterfront, meaning that a night at the opera might be more pedestrian.
It does not, by any means, eliminate the Kennedy Center's isolation, which comes from the I-66 spur that cuts a deadening trench into Foggy Bottom. However, lightly noted in one of Holl's watercolors is a pedestrian bridge to an unspecified destination. This might be the missing piece that would make the expense worth it.
Such a bridge would make the Kennedy Center accessible by foot from both sides. But it would have to be executed as well as the river-side connectors. If the bridge is not kept busy with activity somehow, like the floating pavilion does, it will not be well-used.
Rafael Viñoly's plan to create a public square was cancelled in 2005. Courtesy Rafael Viñoly Architects.
The plan is considerably more modest than the previous expansion plan by Rafael Viñoly, which would have cost $650 million but patched together the urban fabric on E Street. Although this plan does not preclude that more ambitious project in the future, it fulfills some of aims of that design.
Therefore, this plan also opens the site up to more audacious rethinking of the Center's location in the city. For example, replacing the highway to nowhere with a high-capacity boulevard and filling in blocks recovered from the project would reduce the need for a multi-million dollar deck and expensive structural systems.
This new building looks to positively alter the riverbank, aesthetically and functionally. It is a positive step forward that avoids the pitfalls of a grandiose scheme. However Holl's design evolves, by the intended completion in 2018, could be the first phase of rethinking Foggy Bottom as a more human-scale environment and reconnecting DC's arts center to the rest of the city.
The badly deteriorated Broad Branch Road in northwest Washington could become a more complete street that will accommodate pedestrians and cyclists as well as drivers, as part of a much-needed restoration.
Winding west from Rock Creek to Chevy Chase, the 2-mile-long route does double duty for recreation and commuting. It's necessary link between upper northwest's neighborhoods, Rock Creek Park, and downtown.
Originally a market road for local farmers, most of its current infrastructure dates to the early 20th century. Patchwork fixes have only staved off a century of deterioration. Flooding has undermined the road's substructure, most dramatically in 2011, when the bridge over Soapstone Creek collapsed. Since it needs to replace the roadbed anyway, DDOT has taken the opportunity to update the design for modern uses.
Three constituencies use the road regularly: motorists, cyclists, and joggers. The first has no real difficulty using the road, but the road and its bridges were built for smaller cars going slower. The road, after all, was originally a market path for local farmers.
Cyclists can use the road, but they have to keep to a quick pace. It's not suitable for children, deterring families from using their neighborhood parkland. Finally, there are no real facilities for joggers, let alone walkers, but they have to skirt the roadway to access Soapstone Valley, which feeds Broad Branch.
That means that currently, the Broad Branch only optimally serves motorists, mostly during rush hour. Early community outreach has produced 4 options for an Environmental Assessment. Beyond the no-action alternative, one proposal is to simply rebuild the road, altering it to improve safety and reduce the footprint.
A third alternative would add a sidewalk, while the most substantial would include a full-length bike lane in the uphill direction as well as the sidewalk. All rebuilding options would all include stormwater retention gardens and contextually-appropriate safety walls.
Of the alternatives, only the fourth takes advantage of the route's potential. A quiet, wooded route with a low grade is ideal for use by cyclists and pedestrians. For commuters, Alternative 4 is ideal. It includes a 4' bike lane in the uphill direction of traffic, but not one downhill.
Given the narrow right-of-way, this option is the best use of space, because cyclists on Broad Branch can often move with traffic going downhill, but only the most athletic can sustain 25mph uphill for two miles.
Making Broad Branch more convenient for cyclists will open up large swaths of upper northwest to sustainable forms of commuting. Residents won't have to huff and puff up the hills and ridges that make Upper Northwest so exhaustingly "upper." Cycling neighbors could practically coast all the way in via the bike path along Rock Creek and comfortably ride home.
The bike lane and sidewalk will also benefit locals looking for recreation in their own neighborhood. Most of Rock Creek is surrounded by steep escarpments that make access to it difficult and dangerous for residents on either end of the age spectrum. A paved sidewalk on the easy slope of Broad Branch will increase accessibility dramatically for a wide range of abilities. The valley itself would also be more usable to residents, making it more of an amenity than it currently is.
A criticism of alternative 4 is that it encroaches on the streambed and increases the amount of paving along the road. These issues should be addressed with design elements that reduce runoff. Signage at the rain gardens, as well as other sites of interest would provide an opportunity for interpretation of the park, history, and the impact of urbanization. More importantly, by making alternative modes of commuting more convenient, a complete Broad Branch road would reduce automobile pollution.
To make the most impact this project needs to be part of a larger network. The sidewalk bill is one part of this. Any plans should take into consideration the opportunity to calm traffic and improve safety by adding bike lanes on the unnecessarily wide Nevada Avenue, which is the extension of Broad Branch up a former stream valley. The potential of a Broad Branch that serves all uses should not be passed over.
Because the road needs to be so radically rebuilt, the opportunity to make these changes will not come again for many years. It is important that the road meet the ecologically sensitive needs of the population 50 years from now. Rebuilding it as a car-only route would be a serious mistake.
DDOT is interested in hearing from the public. To make that easy, any comments you post here will automatically also go to the project email address.
A building proposed for Tenleytown deserves praise for putting density in the right spot, but its design is too fractured to contribute to the character of Tenleytown. Although the building fills the majority of the lot and is lined with retail, it is neither an interesting work of architecture nor a quiet background building.
The Bond at Tenley suffers from overcomposition. In order to break up the bulk, the architects at Shalom Baranes and Associates used large-scale overlapping conceptual volumes to break down the sense that the building is a single, solid object. These shapes mostly refer to differences in the building's urban context, like the angles between streets. Baranes then intersected and manipulated them into each other in order to diminish the presence of the building's mass.
However, at smaller scales and different locations, the same figures repeat. Blocks and grids overlap and glance by each other, repeating the same general patterns. Rather than using the shifts of scale to contradict figures or develop simplicity, the architects jostled oversized parts together.
PUD filings and renderings on the project's website show the façades principally forming a thick bar along Wisconsin Avenue. From this block, a pane of gray metal splits out to match the north-south orientation of the city's grid and the Brandywine Street façade.
By itself, the scissor neatly registers the odd angle formed between the old Georgetown Pike and the city's grid, while opening up to the street. But then there's the brick elevator tower and a separate set of bay windows and the parapet, and a dozen different windows.
But that's not it. The retail strip is articulated as entirely separate from the top of the building, weakening the relationship of the upper stories to the street. A second color of terracotta runs up the middle of the Wisconsin side, implying another, imaginary volume. Then, there are several tiny balconies protruding from the front, some of which are created by the formal moves, and others seem arbitrary. A look at the floorplans reveals a tortured façade that generally adds up to nothing in particular.
Typical residential plan at right, ground floor at left.
With all of these inflections, what do any of them mean? What part of the context or urban form does the building highlight? A more limited number of operations, with a greater depth of detail, would produce a better environment for passers-by. A building with more depth would stand on its own, even as other buildings fill up the neighboring lots and residents become inured to its presence.
Consider the difference between the sounds of two popular summer pastimes: crashing waves and fireworks. One is a repetitive, muffled noise with numerous subtleties, such that the slightest change in timing can make you hold your breath. The other is loud, arranged for variety and effect, and very, very loud. Worse, Baranes' design is like a fireworks show where every explosion is meant to drown out the noise of every other explosion, so you can't pin a boom to a flash or react to one before the other. Which one would you rather live in?
It's not entirely fair to pick on this building, but it is representative of the city's reputation. When national publications criticize Washington for its conservatism, they are not talking about the traditionalist works. They are talking about the endless formalized reference to context, uncommitted postmodernism, and the high-end banal glass. The plaid grid of featureless panels is so common in DC buildings, one could call it DC's "official" façade treatment, the architectural equivalent of the Rickey.
However, the trend towards something more lively is already embedded in the design. The architects have called for a terracotta rainscreen for the Wisconsin Avenue façade. The systems used allow for more variety and greater sustainability. Baranes have already successfully used this kind of cladding at Waterfront Station, in Southwest DC. On a smaller project like this one, they could be more experimental with how these small, ceramic panels add to the experience of passers-by.
The design of this particular building is important, because it will set the tone for the coming development in this neighborhood, as it diversifies and intensifies. More generally, the building represents a particular fixation of Washington architects: design not to meet context, but originating in the various shapes of buildings around it. SBA is one of the A-list architecture firms of the DC area, and already has a presence in Tenleytown, the excellent Cityline. A clean design that develops complexity without ostentatiousness is entirely possible.
If Tenleytown is to look different from downtown, this project can start to make the distinction. This is the first building of a coming regeneration. The importance of setting the tone is important. Tenleytown needs transit-oriented development with enough cohesion and activity to maintain and grow its identity. Simply deferring to the mediocre context will not develop the neighborhood, but merely perpetuate the present state in nicer materials.
Rather than use its influence to oppose all design, ANC 3E and the Tenleytown community should work with the developer to produce a better design, one with rhythms and scale that relate to the street and surroundings while bringing something new and vital to the area.
Cross-posted at цarьchitect.
The strongest criticism to American University's East Campus project has come from some neighbors in the adjacent Westover Place private community. Their case against the plan, however, is eroded by a development fight 36 years ago, where their own homes were the development threatening to spoil Northwest's character.
Just as some residents are fighting the potential of AU's campus expansion, so did an earlier generation fight the development of the property that abuts a five-acre parking lot AU wants to turn into a leafy complex of low-rise residential buildings.
A substantial amount of opposition has arisen in Westover Place, a gated complex of rowhouses between Massachusetts Avenue and
Foxhall Road New Mexico Avenue. They have been the most vocal at ANC 3D meetings, insisted that AU build its buildings next to other people's homes, and gathered there for this summer's traffic protest.
But in 1977, it was the threat of Westover Place that was vexing locals. According to a September 25th, 1977 Washington Post article:
And to the north of this, adjacent to the 5-acre university parking lot, Kettler Brothers Inc., the giant development company that built Montgomery Village, has already cleared more than eight acres where 149 town houses will be constructed. Houses in this development, Westover Place, will sell from about $135,000.In the article, entitled "Bulldozers at the Estates," Phil McCombs reports on arguments and characters not unlike the current fights over American University's expansion and other developments in the area. Just as before, opponents are appealing to a right of first arrival, but the article lays bare the hypocrisy in living in a development while fighting a development because it will have the same effects your house did. The rowhouses of Westover Place and similar developments paved over Northwest's last open spaces that seemed so essential to the "rural" character of piedmont Washington.
Similar to the opposition to the 1960 Tenley Library and the 1941 Sears Roebuck, an enormous to-do was made over the development and yet both became established elements of the community. At that time, however, the changes seemed signified the end of something unique. McCombs quotes the ANC3 Commissioner Polly Shackelton bemoaning the change:
"Here you have these fine established residential neighborhoods, which will be impacted with increased density and traffic and all kinds of things that really could be very damaging," she said. "I think in a way it's too bad we don't have a comprehensive plan."The problematic idea here is "establishment": that because a neighborhood has reached any level of development at all, it should be maintained as it is. Are the current residents who now enjoy this property more justified than their neighbors who lived there in 1977, or estate owners who lived there in 1917?
She said that development of the Rockefeller estate, for example, "will be devastating because Foxhall Road is already crowded. With 100 new houses there, I don't know how we'll deal with it."
No, these developments were part of the gradual urbanization of rural estates with density that is more appropriate to a close-in area. In 1977, it was the end of estates, and now it is a shift away from suburban design. Planning should manage change, but we cannot presume to think that any section of a city is in its final state. This flux, and its resistance are the same as today as they were a generation ago.
The objections seem as new (and as stale) as ones thrown up on the Tenleytown listerv yesterday. Just as opponents of Douglas Development's proposal for the former Babe's Billiards site have argued, in 1977 "Area residents said they are concerned that students from the nearby university will team up in the apartment buildings But the city and its infrastructure have been able to adapt to the new houses and the new apartments. The Metro arrived at Tenleytown and Friendship Heights. Both of those neighborhoods have survived significant growth, and quality of life and environment has improved. Friendship Heights, in particular, remains extremely popular as a place to raise a family, even has it has grown more popular as a retail destination and apartment community.
Long-term residents recall the fight of the development of the Glover estate as quite heated, yet the predicted cataclysms never came to pass. Residents of newer developments have integrated into the community, enough to fight changes, at least. Why should we expect any of the dire predictions about AU's expansion to come to fruition?
Cross-posted at цarьchitect. A version of this post appeared in the November 15th, 2011 issue of the Northwest Current.
But the city and its infrastructure have been able to adapt to the new houses and the new apartments. The Metro arrived at Tenleytown and Friendship Heights. Both of those neighborhoods have survived significant growth, and quality of life and environment has improved. Friendship Heights, in particular, remains extremely popular as a place to raise a family, even has it has grown more popular as a retail destination and apartment community.
Long-term residents recall the fight of the development of the Glover estate as quite heated, yet the predicted cataclysms never came to pass. Residents of newer developments have integrated into the community, enough to fight changes, at least. Why should we expect any of the dire predictions about AU's expansion to come to fruition?
Cross-posted at цarьchitect. A version of this post appeared in the November 15th, 2011 issue of the Northwest Current.
- Metro maps out loop line between DC and Arlington
- Ask Congress to give DC self-rule on building heights
- It's fine to not build parking at Tysons Metro stations
- Alexandria board rejects King Street bike lanes
- DC sports spaces give short shrift to girls
- Sexist Metro ad asks "Can't we just talk about shoes?"
- Downtown & Georgia Avenue Walmarts open for business