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Gateway Market: "Chicago-projects quality"

In the triangle bounded by New York Avenue, Florida Avenue, and Gallaudet University, near the Metro station named for all three, is the city's largest wholesale food market, a key link in the economic system for restaurants and small grocery markets. Along Florida Avenue, in front of the market, is a vacant lot with a sign: "Pretty soon, you won't recognize the place. Promise."

South elevation of the proposed Gateway Market development at 4th and Florida, NE.

At a Zoning Commission hearing last week, the developers presented a generally thoughtful plan for the site, which according to Richard Layman is vastly improved over previous designs. The plan has ground floor retail along Florida (I think), and a direct second-floor entrance off Morse Street in the Florida Market to a food court type area which will allow wholesale vendors in the market to also sell retail in what the developer called a "more consumer-friendly edge" to the market.

The whole thing still has a mall-like feel to it, a combination of the Friendship Heights mall that has stores on Wisconsin Avenue but still directs most of its traffic inward, and the second-floor National Place food court near Metro Center which, while not terrible, still draws people off the street. One of the community amenities, a public use space for the ANC and others, is currently located on the ground floor corner, which destroys an opportunity to better engage the street.

Zoning Commission members still had questions about the retail, concerned it would not succeed. Patrons have to to climb stairs from the 4th Street entrance and (I wasn't clear on this) possibly also Florida; some of the retail spaces, and the loading dock configuration, are awkward due to constraints of the site.

Commissioner Jeffries also objected to the building's appearance. Along Florida and 4th, it's glass, but facing west (toward the rest of the city) is mostly a large concrete wall, which Jeffries said "has a Chicago-projects quality to it." Chairman Hood agreed, likening the building to a storage facility.

West elevation of the proposed project.

That side looks the way it does because the Burger King (the small building to the left in the above picture) is likely a future site for redevelopment. That blank wall runs right up to the lot line, meaning a future building would block any windows (including the few that exist now). Though, as ANC 6C Commissioner Anne Phelps (who represents the neighborhood directly across Florida from the site) pointed out, there's a chance that 3th Street NE would be restored across that area, and depending where it goes, that wall might become corner frontage.

The Zoning Commission recommended simple fixes, such as some "scoring" on the concrete to give it more texture. The Commissioners also reiterated their concerns about retail success and loading, but mainly support moving this project forward.

Layman also makes the excellent point that a warehouse style of architecture would fit the area's context much better than a glass-and-concrete-box style.

Below are some very fuzzy screen captures of the floor plans, taken from the webcast of the hearing:

First floor plan.

Second floor plan.
David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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This is a pretty bland building, but would you mind clarifying what you mean by "warehouse architecture?" Meaning historicism, high-design interpretation, or just stylistic borrowing?

Secondly, why do we have to keep the character of the neighborhood? The urban form of a city is usually in flux. Why insist on keeping a look that relies on function and use that isn't really there anymore, other than the objections to a lame building.

by The King of Spain on Jul 31, 2008 9:28 pm • linkreport

Correct me if I'm wrong, your highness, but I think the intention behind "keeping the character of the neighborhood" is to keep the city from becoming a homogeneous, featureless wasteland like most of suburbia. Different neighborhoods should feel different, have a different "character."

I agree, though, that we should be careful to avoid using that goal -- laudable though it may be -- to squelch development. One way to work towards both goals at the same time could be to refurbish older buildings for new uses (i.e. convert an old warehouse to lofts).

by Adam on Jul 31, 2008 9:41 pm • linkreport

I'm mostly talking style. The area is very industrial and has a lot of brick warehouse buildings. Making a new, large apartment building in a similar industrial loft style, rather than in the sleek glass K Street law firm style, would, as Layman suggested, pay homage to the origin of the neighborhood. It's just a matter of choosing one kind of building motif over another, the way suburban strip malls in California have wavy orange roofs and in Maryland they have brick fronts.

by David Alpert on Aug 1, 2008 12:15 am • linkreport

Adam: First things first. It is customary to address me as Jermajesty. Secondly, clearly it's a good thing to prevent buildings that are both bland and lacking in design clarity from being smeared out across the city. I think the style of the building is less important than its urban design. Remember that DC, Philly, and New York were mostly almost identical townhouses across the whole city. That style is both homogenous and featureless, but it made a decent place to live.

David: Homage is precisely the right word. I don't like the idea of faux-industrial lofts. But using what is there is a good way of adding more architectural content into the design, either whole buildings or just details. If you take a look at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, you can see that the elements of pre-modernist industrial architecture make a good public building.

I'm afraid your example of stylizing is too broad, though... we don't want simplistic, regionalist tropes around... it's just too suburban.

by The King of Spain on Aug 1, 2008 5:08 am • linkreport

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