Greater Greater Washington

Spingarn car barn design sounds good, but isn't public

DDOT has apparently been hard at work designing an attractive streetcar maintenance facility at the corner of Benning Road and 26th Street, NE. They've worked extensively with historic preservation officials on what sounds like a good design, but still have yet to release it publicly.

Today, DDOT presented the concept design to the Historic Preservation Review Board for comments. The staff report supports the concept so far (but doesn't include any pictures). It says:

Although the northwest corner of the Spingarn site was originally favored as the location most likely to minimize the car barn's overall visual impact, it was later agreed that the corner of Benning Road and 26th Street was preferable since it would allow the new facility to better conceal the necessary streetcar tracks and overhead wires, and because it would more closely relate to the orientation of the other buildings on campus, thus providing opportunities to design a more dignified, civic-minded building rather than an industrial structure that was being hidden from view.
The resulting concept design, and its subtle variations, consists of a large, brick-faced streetcar maintenance facility oriented on the same alignment as the rest of the campus buildings and projecting far enough forward to balance the easternmost projection of Brown Junior High School to the north. The street-facing façade of this component of the car barn will be articulated with large louvered openings, clerestories or other elements that will establish a visual connection to the regular fenestration of the Spingarn and other schools to the north. Solar panels will be incorporated onto the roof of the facility to maximize its energy efficiency.

To the south of the maintenance facility, offices, training facilities, public meeting spaces and related functions will be housed in a lower, sweeping arm of the building that curves to respond to the alignment of Benning Road and establishes a more pedestrian scaled public entrance at the prominent corner of 26th and Benning Road. Although the specific materials that will be used to complete this portion of the car barn have yet to be identified, they are likely to consist of light colored, solid cladding materials and curtain walls of translucent glass.

Through a combination of massing and orientation, the currently proposed concept design establishes a logical and complimentary relationship to the arrangement and hierarchy of buildings on the campus and to their open setting. The proposed red brick of the maintenance facility contrasted with the light colored solid materials and translucent glass of the office portion of the car barn also relate directly to the schools' predominant red brick and limestone color palette. In short, the concept as currently proposed appears to be generally compatible with its historic context. However, some further refinement of the building design and site features will likely be necessary to better relate the new facility to the historic schools and other historic properties in the surrounding area, including the landmarked Langston Terrace Dwellings which are located just to the west.

Board members had a number of general design comments. A few members expressed opposition to siting the maintenance facility at Spingarn at all; if a majority of the board wants to block the facility, they can agree to landmark Spingarn and then interpret any building closer to the street as being historically incompatible. This debate will rage at the board's hearing on the actual decision whether or not to designate Spingarn as a landmark, scheduled for November 29.

DDOT did not respond to a request I sent last night for the latest design. DDOT spokesperson John Lisle previously wrote on September 26 that, "Additional opportunities for public participation/feedback will be scheduled over the next 90-120 calendar days."

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

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Would not DDOT's application to the HPRB and any supporting documents be a matter of public record, and therefore be inspected at the Office of Planning?

by Paul on Nov 1, 2012 4:59 pm • linkreport

Build it!

by H Street LL on Nov 1, 2012 8:22 pm • linkreport

I am not following this. I thought the question before the HPRB is whether the Spingarn campus is worthy of preservation. Seems to me that the answer to that question is pretty straightforward -- i.e., YES. So what does the design of the streetcar maintenance barn have to do with the historical importance of the (already existing) campus?

by goldfish on Nov 1, 2012 10:58 pm • linkreport

I wonder what features will better relate to Langston Terrace. It would be cool to see a frieze in a similar style, or a sculptural element matching the bold deco style of the "Madonna with Children" there.

by Lucre on Nov 2, 2012 10:18 am • linkreport

The drawings are public record and can probably be viewed at the Office of Planning by requesting to see the file. All District projects, regardless of landmark status, are reviewed by the HPRB or Office of Preservation for impact on potential historic resources. If Spingarn is landmarked then its reviewd by HPRB on that basis.

by crin on Nov 2, 2012 4:38 pm • linkreport

Oops. I mean all District of Columbia Government projects are reviewed by HPRB or preservation office.

by crin on Nov 2, 2012 4:41 pm • linkreport

I saw the DDOT document. I wasn't at the hearing but did see someone's notes on the comments of the HPRB members. They weren't favorable, with one exception.

The image of the building in the DDOT document has brick, but otherwise is pretty crappy and wouldn't pass muster I don't think.

THe challenge will be for DDOT to do something a lot better.

Just because they referenced extant car barns in the city doesn't seem to indicate that the designs actually influenced them, other than, as noted, the proposed use of brick.

by Richard Layman on Nov 2, 2012 6:20 pm • linkreport

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