Greater Greater Washington

Just propose a Federal style store already, Apple

Georgetown's ANC and the Old Georgetown Board, the special historic preservation review body for Georgetown, recently rejected Apple's proposed design for a store on Wisconsin Avenue. The Current reported on it last week, and yesterday City Paper exposed the story to the Web, prompting more coverage in the tech press.


Great design. Not Georgetown. Photo by highstrungloner on Flickr.

According to the original article, this is the third design Apple has proposed and the third neighborhood groups have rejected. This iteration featured "a glass first story with a solid stone upper facade punctuated by a large window shaped like Apple's logo," a design Steve Jobs "really loves."

The tech press echoes the obvious framing, "neighborhood naysayers nix awesome Apple architecture." But I'll say it: I'm not so sure Apple should build a glass and stone structure with an Apple-shaped cutout. Georgetown (outside the waterfront) has a very distinct character that comes from its Federal style buildings. Plenty of other stores do just fine reusing the historic structures. As one of the City Paper commenters pointed out, Apple managed to keep a historic facade on their stores in SoHo (Manhattan); Palo Alto CA; Durham, NC; Regent Street, London and elsewhere.

This building sits amid a long row of similar Federal style buildings. It's right at the end of Prospect Street, making it particularly visible:


Unless Google Maps is giving very wrong information, Apple's building is the (non historic) one with the arch. Image from Google Street View. Go to interactive display.

A permanent Apple-shaped architectural feature and all-glass first floor facade may fit Steve Jobs' megalomaniacal personality and Apple's brash corporate image, but if the Old Georgetown Board says it doesn't fit in Georgetown, they may be right. It's not as incongruous as if Apple wanted an all-glass cube like the really cool design on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, but it's still a step away from the very successful way Georgetown's buildings fit together as a coherent whole. Without seeing the actual design, it's hard to pass final judgment, but the Old Georgetown Board and the ANC saw it. They didn't like it. When it comes to architecture, I'd give them the benefit of the doubt over Apple.

If Apple wants glass and metal, how about Near Southeast or NoMa or Mount Vernon Triangle or one of the other neighborhoods with new modern buildings? People will shop at a Georgetown Apple store whether the building is glass, brick, or stone.

Apple, please just design a tasteful structure that echoes classic Federal motifs and fits in well amid its neighbors. Then you can sell some iPods and iPhones and make a lot of money, and Georgetown can keep its special character. It's not that hard.

Tip: Ian.

Update: Georgetown Metropolitan mocks up what the proposal might have looked like, based on the press reports. If this was indeed what they suggested, it seems clearly inappropriate.

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. 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 daughter in Dupont Circle. 

Comments

Add a comment »

Very well put. It's much like society where there are certain venues like costume balls and the like which encourage individual expression, and some like graduation ceremonies, where the whole takes precidence over the parts. It's every young modernists wet dream of being the sole arbiter of truth in a sea of conformity, but when everyone is screaming for attention, it's not conformity as much as rudness.

by Thayer-D on Dec 30, 2008 1:53 pm • linkreport

Agreed. I'm a huge fan of Apple products and use a Macintosh computer and talk on an iPhone. I will shop in their store because of their products. There is no reason to be rude and megalomaniacal by building something modernist in a place that is clearly a historic district that is dominated by 18th century architecture.

In fact, I'll be more inclined to shop in that store if they are good citizens and fit in with the historic district.

by Cavan on Dec 30, 2008 2:16 pm • linkreport

I don't think it would be that difficult to design something with a glass first floor facade that fits in w/ G'town.

by Vik on Dec 30, 2008 2:18 pm • linkreport

Personally, I suspect what's already there is better than anything they could come up with. The arched window is a little big, but other than that, it's a nicely proportioned building.

by Steve on Dec 30, 2008 2:37 pm • linkreport

I think I'd love seeing a giant white apple glowing in the middle of the huge arch window on level 2 through the glass, with a very open middle atrium-style area next to the window just like the Soho store in NYC. Keep the existing building and make the inside uniquely apple with the glass stairs, the glass sky bridge and the little theatre in the back of floor 2... it can be done, it has been done, it should be done again.

by Jason on Dec 30, 2008 2:58 pm • linkreport

Ah, got it!

If it's an esteemed business like Apple and we're dealing with a super rich, respectable neighborhood like G'town, then we all go along to get along, regarding architectural conformity and historic preservation.

Outside these confines, we're talking about crappy neighborhoods and crappy houses.

(VERY sorry for the snark, it's not just directed at you...just the whole attitude, occasionally, of this blog)

by Jazzy on Dec 30, 2008 3:10 pm • linkreport

Can you clarify what attitude you are objecting to?

by David Alpert on Dec 30, 2008 3:18 pm • linkreport

After looking at those links that were posted in the City Paper comments, I'm kinda surprised it's taking this much effort for Apple to come up with an acceptable design. Seems like they've done a pretty good job meeting similar demands elsewhere.

by Mike B. on Dec 30, 2008 3:29 pm • linkreport

Agreed.

For the record: Georgetown is full of 19th century buildings, not 18th century buildings. In fact, there are very few "Federal" buildings. Most of the buildings are Victorian of some stripe (primarily Italianate like the building to the left of the building in question, or brick Queen Anne).

Technically, while I'd call this building "federal" in infuence, it looks like a 20th century facade, which would make it Colonial Revival (or even the later Neo Colonial style) not Federal.

by Reid on Dec 30, 2008 3:43 pm • linkreport

Jazzy,

If you're refering to the tear it down mentality of the Prudential Building in Downtown Silver Spring versus Georgetown, at the risk of sounding classist ;)

Georgetown is an 18th and 19th century fabric, much more unique and historically valuble than a mid-century bank building in a turn of the 19th century town. The fact that rich people live there has nothing (architecturally) to do with it.

by Thayer-D on Dec 30, 2008 3:50 pm • linkreport

Thank you for reposting this article on the Georgetown listserv. Not having seen the Apple store plans, I can't say much, but I can agree that Apple can work within the confines of the present structure and still come up with a great store. Hopefully a better store than the usual ones, which have cool merchandise displayed on what look like glorified picnic tables!

by Alison on Dec 30, 2008 4:01 pm • linkreport

The current building reminds me vaguely of William Kent cf:http://www.flickr.com/photos/belvedere/364878549/

@ Reid: Do all English styles of a certain age get lumped into "Colonial revival"? That doesn't seem quite fair.

by Steve on Dec 30, 2008 4:23 pm • linkreport

Good for the ANC and the Old Georgetown Board.

There is a time and place for everything...but historic Georgetown...especially this critical portion of lower Wisconsin Avenue..is certainly not the place for what is being proposed.

Georgetown was able to keep the Metro out. Keeping Steve Jobs and his ego at bay should be relatively easy in comparison.

by Mike Silverstein on Dec 30, 2008 6:05 pm • linkreport

Mike: I recommend you read the book 'The Great Society Subway' (available at amazon, etc). It details the georgetown and metro situation very clearly. It wasn't really anything to do with Georgetown keeping it out, it was more that it was never seriously considered for a variety of reasons - no high density housing/hotels, too much of the 'walkable radius' underwater/river, too deep for a workable station, etc.

by Aaron on Dec 30, 2008 7:07 pm • linkreport

Seems a metro-accessible location that is able to serve a larger regional customer base would make better business sense.

Ditch Georgetown and locate downtown.

by spookiness on Dec 30, 2008 7:28 pm • linkreport

I drew up a mock-up of the proposal here (since there doesn't seem to be any mock-ups circulating around). It's just a stab using Photoshop, but it's what they say it would look like.

by Georgetown Metropolitan on Dec 30, 2008 11:42 pm • linkreport

If they extend the Purple Line all the way down the Capital Crescent trail we could pick up the G-towners too.

by Thayer-D on Dec 31, 2008 6:47 am • linkreport

If the area is poorer, less educated than “we” are – scoff at their historic applications and historic this or that, their demands for architectural integrity. Bring in the development! Bring in smart growth at all costs! Who cares about the people who are already there? NIMBYs one and all!

But when it comes to Georgetown, bow down in great respect.

I agree wholeheartedly with the decision. Good for them. But extend the same admiration to other neighborhoods too. McMillan (as one example) doesn’t have the elite sponsors perhaps, the depth of money that Georgetown has, so everyone on this list (most fairly new to the city) says oh, just develop it. We don’t care about silly sand filtration.

It’s a cavalier attitude about everything until the Georgetowners say to take it seriously then everyone gets into lock step. Yes sir!

It was all so very predictable, is all.

by Jazzy on Dec 31, 2008 8:08 am • linkreport

I think this situation alludes to something that this blog skirts around. DC is unfriendly to unconventional architects and the architecture they architect.

My fiance has had a terrible time finding a job in this city with a firm that doesn't do rank-and-file design work (i.e., bland corporate offices such as the new glass structures on 11th and NY Ave or 'edgy' condos that are edgy because they have metal sheeting instead of brick). After working with the Landscape Architecture Bureau for a year, she pretty much called it quits on the city, and we are looking at moving to NYC to find better design opportunities. In her words, "DC is the only major city on the East Coast where I can't practice." This entire situation kills me, because, as a lifelong resident, I hate to leave, but at the same time, I can work anywhere (consultant) and she's right about this place.

Which brings me to my point about this G-town spat. The neighborhood may benefit from having an apple store that conforms to aesthetic standards, or it may not, but serial rejection of unconventional design work scares away the design community, which, in my opinion, hurts this city in the long run. We can not "compete" with major european capitals or bigger cities such as NYC or Philly in terms of design and art until the city becomes more affable to experimentation in the public sphere, for better or for worse.

While I am all for preservation, I think that many times it goes too far. This is one of those times. How is maintaining a victorian or federalist standard going to preserve the fabric of the georgetown community when no one scoffs at the opening of an American Apparel, or a Johnny Rockets, or an Urban Outfitters? It is inconsistent.

This rejection, to me, is symbolic of a much larger problem. We will not attract good design until barriers to their practices are reduced. I am thankful to see that a good firm is doing three libraries for the city, but we've got a long way to go.

by JTS on Dec 31, 2008 9:27 am • linkreport

^

I do not subscribe to the assumption that "unconventional" is synonymous with "good" when discussing architecture. Architects who rely on a gimmick of being different are, IMO, bad architects. That’s not to say that different *can’t* be good, just that it isn’t automatically good by definition.

Anyway, Apple should just use the existing building. There’s nothing wrong with it as far as I can tell.

If they’re really set on a new building, I don’t necessarily have a problem with contemporary architecture, but a glass wall isn’t good enough. Georgetown isn’t characterized by “federal” architecture so much as “ornamented” architecture. Try something with a lot of details and I suspect it will stand a better chance.

by BeyondDC on Dec 31, 2008 9:41 am • linkreport

And now everyone is an armchair entrepreneur, telling Apple what's good for it, etc.

Whoever made the claim that Apple should go downtown: Who cares what you think it's their business not yours.

@Beyond DC- You may not see one but they obviously do. If they liked the building they would have used it.

That's the one problem with new urbanists- they always have the answer on how everyone else should live and never fathom the idea that people are actually quite capable of making desicions for themselves.

by Economic Geography on Dec 31, 2008 9:50 am • linkreport

JTS,

This may sound a little cruel, but maybe your fiance dosen't have the "goods". I think it's great you're being supportive of her, but her attitude towards architectural convention in Washington is a bit adolescent and quite conventional ironically. There's every kind of architecture being practiced in DC. This is emblimatic of how architectural schools screw so many young architects up with their unreal expectations. Architecture students are designing for a bunch of professors who neglect to tell you that most people don't want to live on the cutting edge. When they come up to reality, they scoff at the philistine developers and clients when in reality most are covering up for their utter lack of preparadness for their profession.

EC,

I hate to break it to you but if you think that people make the decisions for themselves (on urbanism), I've got a deconstructed bridge to sell you, or traditional if you prefer.

by Thayer-D on Dec 31, 2008 10:09 am • linkreport

Good post, Thayer.

The academic architectural establishment is firmly rooted in sculptural modernism. They are incredibly conservative in their groupthink regarding so-called unconventionalism. Want to do something really BOLD as an architect? Throw out deconstructivism and modernism and design a public building in beaux arts. No starchitect in the country would expect it.

As for telling other people who to live, get back to me when you've eliminated the zoning regulations that make urbanism illegal in most of America.

by BeyondDC on Dec 31, 2008 10:30 am • linkreport

^

HOW to live, not WHO to live.

by BeyondDC on Dec 31, 2008 10:31 am • linkreport

@BDC

Um, I'd like to get rid of those zoning laws as well. Zoning is stupid and unamerican and almost always leads to negative consequences. Maybe the first generation of bureuaucrats running the zoning know the spirit of the law and it is enforced well, but once that power is sitting on the shelf, eventually down the road someone's gonna see that authority and mis-use it. That pattern has been the case in almost every bit of recorded history in America regarding government intervention in land-use regulation.

From Rent Control to Bob Moses to NIMBYism using zoning to derail stuff.

by Economic Geography on Dec 31, 2008 10:57 am • linkreport

What I don't understand is why Apple is sold on Georgetown anyway. Think about it. On a daily basis you are going to have way more foot traffic (locals, workers, tourists) downtown (Penn Quarter) than you do in Georgetown. Why not just cut your losses with the idea of G-town store and put is somewhere "downtown" and Metro accessible. I don't think that anyone would argue with Mr. Jobs' business accumen, but even the smartest of business folks don't have great ideas 100 percent of the time and this seems like one of those times.

by Adams Morgan on Dec 31, 2008 12:01 pm • linkreport

Stick to your guns, Apple! Then maybe Union Station really will get an Apple store, if Georgetown turns you down.

by lou on Dec 31, 2008 12:06 pm • linkreport

I'm all for an Apple Store in Penn Quarter or MVT. But is it really an either or thing between downtown and Gtown? I think the city could support both. No?

by FourthandEye on Dec 31, 2008 12:11 pm • linkreport

I agree Adams Morgan. But I wonder if they're not going for the net worth of their consumers over foot traffic. I don't know. Just that look at where they are now (Bethesda) and where they want to go, Georgetown. Maybe they were considering factors other than foot traffic.

But I agree, having it in Chinatown or Penn Quarter, especially near a metro station, would be better.

I wonder about Union Station, only because as with any Apple store these days, you have to think about crowd control, and that would be a lot of noise inside those cavernous halls.

by Jazzy on Dec 31, 2008 12:14 pm • linkreport

I hear you both, BDC and Thayer, but you are putting words in my mouth. I never said that people want to live in "cutting edge" spaces nor did I say anything about good architects being unable to work with 'philistine' developers. As the dude would say, "that's just like, uh, your opinion, man." But seriously, you're jumping to a conclusion that is unwarranted by what I put up there.

Sure, it's entirely possible that she may not have the 'goods,' but I take issue with you saying that not because its insulting, but because it implies that architects in this city are more qualified than those in NYC, Amsterdam, or any other city that, as far as I'm concerned, takes pragmatic steps to appreciate the practice more as an art form and less as a service.

The high line in NYC is a great example of this; if local firms had more support from civic organizations to do unconventional things, we might acheive a greener, less commuter friendly city in half the time (pedestrianizing Mass Ave from Union Station to Dupont Circle replete with rotating architectural installations and a tram anyone?). Servicing clients isn't the goal of all architecture, as you seem to think it is. At the same time, would I want a Gehry building adjacent to Blagden Alley? Hell no, but I do think arduous restrictions, even when well intentioned, can encumber creativity.

The point of my post is that, as I see it, DC could attract a cadre of small, issue oriented archtecture and design firms if it was easier to practice here and institutions were more interested in the practice. Furthermore, I believe there is no reason for a, as you say, "cutting edge" building proposal to get thrown out the window when it would sit next to commercial outlets that do at least as much harm to the aesthetic fabric. An quirky apple store is no more disruptive than a clothing retailer with a loud display in its window (cough cough PUMA cough).

by JTS on Dec 31, 2008 12:40 pm • linkreport

Aaron...

Thanks for your comment about Georgetown and the Metro. I had a cursory knowledge of the various problems that kept Metro out of Georgetown. My remark was more snark than anything, focusing on the clout that G'town has.

This issue brings to light one of David's themes: that historic preservation is given greater respect when we're dealing with those buildings and areas where there is widespread public support.

Lower Wisconsin Avenue is an iconic area. We have all marveled at those pictures of those blocks after snowstorms. Support and affection for this area is not limited to ardent preservationists. Even those with no knowledge of architecture and little knowledge of history understand there's something very special about the area around Wisconsin and M. It's a treasure.

And that's why all of Steve Jobs' horses and all of his men won't succeed here.

by Mike Silverstein on Dec 31, 2008 1:00 pm • linkreport

>any other city that, as far as I'm concerned, takes pragmatic steps to appreciate the practice more as an art form and less as a service.

Well see that's just the thing. Creating art is not the goal of architecture any more than it is serving clients. Good architects ought not think of themselves as artists. Artists are only concerned with beauty. Architects, on the other hand, are concerned with making the services of our lives beautiful. The goal of architecture is to make attractive the functions of everyday life. That makes architects artisans. Architects should think of themselves as more like silversmiths than sculptors. In many ways that's more challenging, because it requires architects to constrain themselves in ways that pure artists don't have to consider.

Garish vendor displays, by the way, aren't harming to urbanism in the way some modern architecture is. Visual diversity is one of the cornerstones of walkability, so anything that adds things to look at is generally good.

by BeyondDC on Dec 31, 2008 1:10 pm • linkreport

@BeyondDC:

I get the point you are making, but at the same time I sympathize with JTS's point because, quite frankly, the architecture of downtown dc is close to abysmal (and doesn't exactly do the best job in encouraging a vital streetlife).

by JA on Dec 31, 2008 1:33 pm • linkreport

And, on another note, a mix of older architectural styles with modern architecture can actually be rather cool (there're great examples in Philly, NYC, Boston, etc)

by JA on Dec 31, 2008 1:35 pm • linkreport

@ JA

I've often heard it said that the awful buildings crowding K L and M Streets are brought about by the limitations on architects in DC. To wit: the height limits and set-back requirements. I was inclined to comment yesterday about the Parisian streetscapes on the handsome facades in the slideshow. I noticed particularly that the facades were basically flat, that is the architects managed to produce a visually appealing structure that didn't need projections or concavities or what have you. Looking at older buildings it's obvious that a short cube with basically flat walls can be very attractive, there are obvious ways of incorporating visually interesting features into a flat facade, but this kind of artistry is considered passé by many architects and professional critics. It's often said that architects usually do their worst work in DC and even on comments posted on this blog I've seen the height limits etc. blamed for this. The truth is that great architects can triumph in spite of those kind of limitations. It's not that the restrictions force architects to produce "DC boxes" it's that DC's restrictions expose modern architecture for what it is: boring, insipid, repetitive and neurotic.

by Steve on Dec 31, 2008 2:06 pm • linkreport

The architecture (if it can be called that) on K Street is abysmal. Crossing K is like fjording a river. The least pedestrian friendly street I can think of at this particular moment in time. I hate it.

It's an example of mediocrity copying mediocrity. I hate the street so much that I haven't bothered to do any research on it, to learn what was there before the glass or concrete boxes. But if it was something better, then a better case for preservation would not exist. But again, I don't know.

Still, I'm not so sure why anyone wanting a building designed would have to limit themselves to people who live in Washington, DC. Yes, it unquestionably helps to have someone with years of experience seeing DC, but I would think that could be overcome. Do designers of buildings in Paris, Barcelona, and London live exclusively in Paris, Barcelona and London?

by Jazzy on Dec 31, 2008 2:27 pm • linkreport

@ Jazzy,

If you haven't seen some of the buildings that were knocked down to make way for the concrete/steel boxes, don't look. It's really sad. Though if you can't help yourself, this is the book to read: http://lccn.loc.gov/2002030483

by Steve on Dec 31, 2008 2:37 pm • linkreport

@Steve

I agree -- the height restrictions are really to blame for the conditions on K St etc. When you have a major firm or company who requires X amount of office space and you can only build to a height of 90ft+width of adjacent road, then you might have to devote an entire box-like structure to fill the space (and possibly won't have any store-front space for retailers...unlike many skyscrapers or high-rises, which allow for that).

But to say that "[i]t's not that the restrictions force architects to produce 'DC boxes' it's that DC's restrictions expose modern architecture for what it is: boring, insipid, repetitive and neurotic" is fallacious, in my mind. Modern architecture can be brilliant: a look at some of the newer buildings in many other cities demonstrate that current architectural styles can lead to beautiful results. Unfortunately, the limitations on space imposed by DC's height restrictions limit the capacity of architects or designers to elaborate upon the notion of a box: you can ornament it, wrap it in bows, put cylindrical glass structures on the edges, but it's still going to be an ugly box. At least the cost of the box, since it has to be a box and all, will often be lower with modern architecture than if the designers found a way to create a colonial revival-box or a beaux-arts-box or a romanesque-box.

I'm of the personal persuasion that post-modernist architecture (which is more en vogue now than modernism, after all) can result in some gorgeous buildings, particularly when applied to skyscrapers (1 Liberty Place in Philadelphia is a particular favorite). Unfortunately, most of the firms putting up buildings in DC aren't looking for any sort of cutting edge architectural firm/group: most probably would either charge too much or stifle under the restrictions for space. Instead, DC is left with the equivalent of McOffices: bland, cookie-cutter buildings that maximize space, have nice interiors, but do nothing to encourage streetlife or promote anything resembling an exciting aesthetic for the district

by JA on Dec 31, 2008 3:05 pm • linkreport

@BDC -

we basically agree. The only difference is that I think that a melange of architectural forms enhances an urban walking environment more than garish window displays. Still, my point stands: preservation societies with commercial interests erodes georgetown (and urbanism), not the threat of "new" architecture.

Georgetown is for the suburbs and suburban people. While beautiful (particularly the canal, which is one of my favorite places in the world), its ANC and preservation interests do not deserve an iota more credence than any other area in DC that has a hisoric element to it.

Urbanism? Seriously, at least Dupont and Eastern Market have streets with bike lanes. Where were these preservation societies when Urban Outfitters set up shop? How does the ability to drive in from Potomac to buy a wacky lamp from UO enhance urbanism? My answer: It doesn't, just like accepting or entertaining unorthodox architecture doesn't since georgetown works just fine as a shopping mall without it.

I would like to see real work to preserve (or revive, rather) georgetown's bucolic main streetish atmosphere. Why dont you take out two lanes on M street and put in a park? Where are the bike lanes? It doesn't make sense to side with the ANC etc. on this issue when there are bigger, more fundamental questions we should be asking of them.

by JTS on Dec 31, 2008 3:10 pm • linkreport

Jazzy: You're conflating two different factors. One is whether we should develop something. Another is whether the style should fit with existing buildings.

In Georgetown, the debate is not whether there should be a building or not, but what style it should be. I similarly criticized an incongruous glass building in Columbia Heights, which isn't a fancy rich neighborhood. I think that the Victorian row house aesthetic of Petworth is equally worth preserving.

At McMillan, it's whether to build something or not. And there, the value of having more housing choices for more people in the city outweighs any value we might get from preserving a big empty plot of land with some pipes in it for sentimental value. Plus, they're keeping the pipes.

I see preservation being valuable when it keeps the overall stylistic feel of a place, for places with strong and important stylistic feels. Others want to preserve the historic lack of development, or the historic fact of an area only being very low density single family homes, and I believe that public policy considerations are more important.

by David Alpert on Dec 31, 2008 3:12 pm • linkreport

@JTS:

Ah, but georgetown is the public face of the "nice" "suburban-types friendly" DC that must be preserved at all costs! In fact, very good work by the Georgetown community in blocking the construction of a metro stop, as to best keep out the riff-raff from the other quadrants of the district! Less diversity, more Urban Outfitters/Polo/Johnny Rockets/boutiques!

by JA on Dec 31, 2008 3:24 pm • linkreport

JTS - I agree that Georgetown needs a lot of changes. But I don't see how their support of wide driving lanes on M Street means we should oppose everything the ANC says about the architecture of a Mac store on Wisconsin. The issues are unrelated; we'll get far more done if we work with people in charge for what we all want, rather than create needless and everlasting divisions based on one or two disagreements.

Or was that not what you were saying?

by BeyondDC on Dec 31, 2008 3:45 pm • linkreport

BDC - I just think we need to frame it appropriately; gtown unfairly occupies a space in DC that I think is more deserved by neighborhoods that have taken more substantive steps to embrace urbanism. Let's support and work with ANCs that unabashedly have urban interests in mind, let's call into question ANCs that dont. I feel that some georgetown (and chinatown) ANCs fall into the latter category.

But thank you for putting up with me. Any excuse to get in georgetown's face is like christmas all over again for me.

by JTS on Dec 31, 2008 3:56 pm • linkreport

JTS,

I wanted to appologize about your fiance possibly not having the goods. As for Georgetown, it's easy and fun to put it down, but it is what it is, a rich enclave with outstanding architecture and urbanism, and after decades of whole sale destruction of our historic cities, we should guard our inheritance jealously. If modernism in schools hadn't given a green light to urban renewal via the Villa Radieuse model or had they not taught many generations to be outwardly hostile towards traditional architecture, the public might now trust architects as they should. Architects have a long way before getting that trust back, developers or not.

by Thayer-D on Jan 2, 2009 8:19 am • linkreport

It's pathetic how much people revel in hating on Gtown and projecting intentions that aren't there (ie they are racist? cmon!). It is one of the great neighborhoods in the country. The people of that neighborhood are worthy of praise for maintaining the neighborhood in the impeccable condition it is in, not derision.

by SG on Jan 2, 2009 11:24 am • linkreport

outstanding urbanism? Sure, they've maintained the neighborhood well, but there are still very few traits that truly make it truly sustainable or livable. Where are the mixed income areas? bike lanes? the main strip of gtown is dotted by publicly traded retailers and a four lane road with extra wide lanes (no dedicated bus lanes or bike lanes), and there is an elevated highway along the waterfront, which has docks so you can tie up your yacht and drop 200 bucks for lunch. Come talk to me about outstanding urbanism when a young family can think about living there and still clothe themselves. Come talk to me about outstanding urbanism when a DC resident thinks of georgetown when they think of locally owned businesses (art galleries, custom tailors, citronelle, and antique stores aside).

Eastern Market + Potomac Ave + surrounds should be held up as an outstanding example of urbanism over georgetown (Logan Circle+Shaw is a close second). Significantly more affordable, accessible, and sustainable. Many neighborhoods in pristine architectural condition, local businesses, mixed income neighborhoods, etc. etc. that part of SE and eastern NW areas are DC's real gems.

If we keep looking to georgetown for leadership/as an example on these issues, we will be a car friendly, open air shopping mall before anything else.

by Samwise on Jan 2, 2009 12:03 pm • linkreport

I think SG's point was that some are failing to separate the social aspects of good urbanism with the physical aspects.

Of course the *perfect* neighborhood would have both, but it's pretty intellectually immature to suggest that no lessons at all can come from a neighborhood that is only great in *some* senses.

For example, it might be worth asking what it is about Georgetown that commands such high prices. If anything about its physical urbanism contributes, that's worth knowing.

by BeyondDC on Jan 2, 2009 12:56 pm • linkreport

I got that feeling from SG too, but there are way better places to look than gtown. Many more lessons in good urbanism can be drawn from areas around Potomac Ave and Eastern Market (and elsewhere). If gtown was the only neighborhood in DC that had such a vibrant stock of history and aesthetics, we'd be having a different conversation. It isn't, and I would look elsewhere for lessons first.

by Samwise on Jan 2, 2009 2:20 pm • linkreport

It's not Georgetown's fault that it became homogenized by income. They didn't ask for the nation to undergo a suburban diaspora whose very nature created a Favored Quarter. Georgetown happens to be very much in the Favored Quarter. It existed long before such a thing existed. Most places in the Favored Quarter are equally homogenized by income.

In fact, I think Georgetown deserves a lot of credit for keeping their historic stock of buildings even when they were declining 40-50 years ago in favor of farther out places in the Favored Quarter. We have to remember that there is no Metro in Georgetown because the planners in the 1960's didn't see it as significant enough to warrant a Metro. It would have been very tempting to relax historic preservation standards then in an attempt to lure outside development.

This issue of homogenization of income is a much bigger issue of urban governance, zoning, and economics than one section of one city. It's a national phenomenon that we're only at the beginning of the beginning of addressing and will encounter years of resistance as we try to sort it out.

by Cavan on Jan 2, 2009 2:31 pm • linkreport

@ Samwise

Good points. I sincerely doubt that Georgetown's physical urbanism is so unique, or whatever it needs to be, that it contributes in some way to the area's astronomical prices. There are way better examples of Good Urbanism in the city (west Kingman Park, Mt. Pleasant). I would venture to guess this has something to do with the fact that ever since the kennedy family moved in, the neighborhood has been more Beverly Hills than District of Columbia. Again, though, unbelievable that we credit them for all of the preservation despite the fact that, as far as commercial outlets go, it is no different than White Flint Mall.

Also, I always thought no metro in Georgetown was due to engineering problems?

by JTS on Jan 2, 2009 2:51 pm • linkreport

@ JTS, it was both. The planners didn't think there was enough significance to spend the time/money on the engineering problems.

I do think that every city needs tourist destinations. Currently, Georgetown serves tourists as much or more as locals. As far as the mall atmosphere, that's ok. We need shopping districts, too.

I personally stay away from Georgetown because I feel it's not for me as a local. It's also too hard to get to for me since I live in Montgomery County and take the Metro. It's pretty easy to get to from Arlington, though. Just get off at Rosslyn and walk.

by Cavan on Jan 2, 2009 3:45 pm • linkreport

Let's hope they build something glass. Or at least contemporary, as Apple's gorgeous Boston store has shown. Contemporary architecture fits exceedingly well in a historic context. In fact, it does more to showcase historic architecture than any third rate copy. And any copy would be third rate. Let architecture move forward. Let Georgetown move forward.

Good urbanism isn't about copying what's around you, it's about scale and proportion and light and streets. There are all kinds of vaguely historical crud in along Mass Ave and in Arlington that are disastrously bad buildings. Terrible neighbors and completely out of scale. But hey! They have brick so and lintels and all that other nonsense so we'll just pretend they are good buildings! Because we're Washingtonians and we don't know any better!

by Christopher on Jan 2, 2009 6:59 pm • linkreport

i hope georgetown will enjoy its lovely empty giant store.

by petworthy on Jan 4, 2009 1:11 am • linkreport

>Good urbanism isn't about copying what's around you, it's about scale and proportion and light and streets. There are all kinds of vaguely historical crud in along Mass Ave and in Arlington that are disastrously bad buildings.

This is true.

But let's not pretend there aren't all kinds of contemporary glass buildings all over the country that aren't also disastrously bad. The whole reason so many people default to faux historic architecture is that so much contemporary architecture has been so awful that a few tacked-on bricks and lintels really are preferable to most people.

If architects working in contemporary styles want to win over the public, they'll have to produce buildings that are actually better than the neo-retro copies architectural academia so hates. That's certainly possible, but it doesn't seem to happen very often.

Protip #1 for architects hoping to accomplish such: Glass curtain walls are not good architecture.

Protip #2 for architects hoping to accomplish such: Giant billboards masquerading as architectural features are not good architecture.

by BeyondDC on Jan 5, 2009 10:22 am • linkreport

Great buildings and neighborhoods express the values and priorities of their time.

Great buildings and neighborhoods emerge from techniques and abundance.

Great buildings and neighborhoods reference the past but never replicate it.

http://design-politics.blogspot.com/2009/03/topic-1-danger-of-new-old-things-over.html

by Jim Malone on Mar 20, 2009 11:02 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.

or