Greater Greater Washington

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Board lauds 13th and U design, still balks at height

The Historic Preservation Review Board lavished praise on the architectural design for a proposed residential building at 13th and U Streets, NW, but demurred from approving the project yesterday, as they could not make themselves entirely comfortable with the building's size.


View from U Street. Images from JBG.

The 8-story building would replace the one-story Rite Aid-anchored strip mall at the corner of 13th and U. JBG, the property's owner, wants to build a distinctive residential building in a classic style that evokes many of the large buildings on streets like Connecticut Avenue.

JBG had originally proposed a hotel for the corner, but changed it to residences based on neighborhood pushback against a hotel. They also made the building slightly shorter and set back the top 2 floors. They also stepped the building down in the rear, toward the Wallach Place row houses across the alley to the south.


View from Wallach Place.

Based on these changes, ANC 1B approved the design, and Historic Preservation Office staff also were satisfied with the design, after working extensively with the architect. Preservation officer Steve Callcott explained at yesterday's hearing that since the U Street historic district was created, there has been debate over whether tall buildings belong on U Street at all, given the shorter row houses.

Ultimately, he said, most preservation staff and board members concluded that taller buildings did belong. After all, there are 100-year-old buildings of such heights near row houses in many other parts of the city today.

We don't tend to think of [the tall buildings] as incompatible with the row houses. We think of them as simply a different building type that relates very well and creates a dynamic urban environment, and I think our feeling is that this proposal would do the same thing. It's without a doubt larger than the buildings around it. It's unabashedly an apartment building. But the way the design has been detailed and organized and articulated, despite the disparity in scale and height, it could be a very appropriate neighbor and addition to the U Street historic district.
Some residents of Wallach Place, however, continued to argue that the building should lose one or two more floors. The site is not very deep, and there are smaller row houses immediately across. Since the building is to the north, it won't actually affect the light on their yards, but they objected to the scale of this building compared to others nearby.


View along 13th Street from the north.

Most preservation board members, while they roundly complimented architect David Schwarz on the design, verbally struggled with their decisions but ultimately couldn't agree with the building's size. Architect Graham Davidson, who frequently suggests removing one more floor from buildings that come before him, continued this pattern, but with trepidation.

The building would be a lot better if it were a story lower. The reason I'm conflicted about this is that there are other buildings in the neighborhood which are as high as this building, and have been approved, and have been built, and they're not nearly as good. And it pains me to have to consider penalizing this building, which has been designed so carefully and will be a much more successful building, and to require that it be reduced in size when there are other bldgs that are this height and aren't as succcessful.
Davidson also talked about how the overall proportions of the building were so elegant that any reduction would disrupt the overall look of the building. Likewise, just cutting it down on 13th Street, which is the most residential end, would make it unbalanced and asymmetric.

Nancy Metzger noted that the Ellington, a building of similar height, has greater setbacks. Where it borders townhouses, HPRB forced it to have a smaller end piece. But here, Davidson noted, it's difficult to make one end look like a separate building. (Personally, that end piece has always looked awkward to me, like we almost built a whole building but not quite.)

Metzger seemed to feel she needed to support residents in asking the architect to remove more from the building, but couldn't figure out what. "It is a very elegant building," she said, "And it is very hard as I've been sitting here to say, okay, what is out of it? And I guess I would come down to the point where I think maybe a story needs to come off maybe because it is so big."

Bob Sonderman, the archaeologist member on the board, said,

I just feel like the little country boy from Capitol Hill. We're just not used to big buildings,and this is a really big building. I am fully in support of the architectural design. It's fantastic, it's gorgeous, the proportions are wonderful. It's just a really attractive building, and I think the U Street corridor should be pleased to have an architect of this quality to design a building in this corridor.

It's a huge improvement over many other buildings that this board, and me, have approved in the past. I'm loathe to suggest a reduction in height, but I think that would help a bit. The 13th st facade is great, I love the curves and the corners, but that is a long facade of work there. It's big; but it's pretty... big.


View from U Street Metro.

Andrew Aurbach, on the other hand, raised a question of whether it was appropriate for the board to be trying to decide the overall size. "Maybe these are more zoning concerns than they are preservation concerns," he said, referring to a frequent statement by board members that they only consider what's historic and don't get into zoning matters. Aurbach suggested finding a way to adjust the 13th Street end to reduce the impression of height without actually shrinking the building.

Newly-elected board chair Gretchen Pfaehler also wasn't disturbed by the overall density, but wanted some significant changes. She suggested the architect add more of a "reveal" which conceals some of the mass and girth of the building from some angles.

The traditional style of the building draws upon the critical details, the proportions, the window openings [of precedent in the area]. it's a beautiful building. I think that to me it's a matter of the height along the edge which gets into scaling and massing.

I would push to go just a little bit farther in terms of reveal and pulling away, not only from the pedestrian perception. One thing that makes the Ellington, the Mayflower, the hotel on 14th and K that we just landmarked, even though very large buildings, do have this reveal.

I would propose to my colleagues on the board that I don't think it's an issue of the height as much the proximity of the height along the length of the street. I'm comfortable with the height and I wouldn't direct the applicants to remove a story, but there needs to be more variation in the proximity of the heights to the street. That would give you relief but allow you to have the density that you need.

Pfaehler also acknowledged how the board has to balance "preservation" concerns with the needs of a growing city, especially in this rapidly changing neighborhood.
It's not just the preservation of the heritage that's there, but there needs to be viable infill that provides the affordable vitality that these communities need in order to keep them moving & living. Otherwise we have a museum set, and that's not what DC is about.

View along 13th Street from the south.

Pfaehler proposed a resolution to give the applicant the direction she had outlined, which passed unanimously. It's not entirely clear, but that seems to mean that they don't have to take off any floors, but should look for ways to give the 13th Street end some architectural features which break up its height a bit and let the view people see evolve as they approach on 13th Street from the south.

Ultimately, this case highlighted very starkly the different pressures within preservation for large-scale new construction. How much of it is about a good architectural design that respects the historic context? How much is HPRB just another hurdle which forces projects to shrink down a little more from what they already had in negotiating with the ANC? How much do board members want to actually be making zoning decisions even though they supposedly aren't?

Here, we had a building which the neighborhood generally approved of, the preservation office supported, and for which board members had nothing but the highest praise for the design. Yet 4 members still felt an irresistable pressure to make the building smaller.

Pfaehler might have turned them away from that course for now, and perhaps the architect can accommodate their concerns in a way that doesn't disrupt the opportunity to create a building that future residents will cherish as a highlight of the neighborhood rather than another chimeric compromise.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. 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 loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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It would be really great if someone could do an interview with some of these HPRB people to see what their viewpoints are. The constant calls for "smaller" are aggravating. Small and large buildings can coexist. A varied neighborhood fabric is a good thing.

How much is HPRB just another hurdle which forces projects to shrink down a little more from what they already had in negotiating with the ANC?

We should be asking why these companies have to go to the ANC and then the HPRB and then other people instead of just doing it all at once and combining feedback together to get a result. Right now the ANC says "smaller" so it gets smaller and the the HPRB gets to say "smaller" again so they have to shrink it again. Not a good process when we need to be adding more housing.

by MLD on Dec 21, 2012 1:35 pm • linkreport

It would be interesting to create a kind of schematic or flow chart on these kinds of issues.

- building in historic district
- compatibility with residential neigbhorhood
- compatibility with commercial district
- size
- abutting issues, rear of property
- abutting issues, side streets
etc.

It sounds like there needs to be a clearer framework for approaching these issues.

I tend to not be against height, especially when there are other examples of the same height elsewhere.

However, I have made mistakes on this in the past. E.g., I was supportive of the Senate Square now apartments being taller, since they are against the railyard. Now I would argue that they do impinge on the viewshed of the Capitol from certain areas, and that is a loss.

Another project where I might not necessarily agree with what the HPRB decided specifically wrt height was that building at 24th? and Pennsylvania Ave. NW on the northwest corner. Buildings on corners should be taller.

The issue of course with the building project referenced in this entry is that southeast corner of the block at 14th St. NW will always be two stories, and the historic buildings between them and this site. Although there will be a large building in the middle of that block of 14th, in all likelihood.

Similarly, the northeast corner of 14th and U will always be three stories. Even though as you approach 13th, the "new" Donatelli building(s) (which I like, but Alero as a restaurant sucks), will always be much taller than rowhouse building stock.

This is a dilemma, but for the most part, the only place where the city can accommodate larger multiunit buildings without significantly impinging on the residential neighborhood is on commercial district blocks that typically abut traditional 2-3 story rowhouse or detached housing blocks.

For the most part, this doesn't have significant impact on residents _with the exception of those immediately abutting_. (This comes up with the Col. Brooks project in Brookland, with extant rowhouses and single family detached houses sharing the block. To some extent, it is an issue with Hine, at least with the 2-3 story rowhouses on the east side of 8th Street.)

They will lose out, depending on sun, shadow, etc., even if most people don't.

Sometimes, for the "greater good," some people do in fact lose.

OTOH, I argue that when you're immediately abutting a commercially zoned block, you can't have the expectation that things will never change. Uses within commercially zoned properties are ever-changing, and that can include the addition of housing.

by Richard Layman on Dec 21, 2012 1:41 pm • linkreport

A worthy companion piece to the recent 5-part series on why DC can't build enough housing, and how this hurts affordability. This project should be approved as-is, and we should look into easing some of the onerous hoops that any development must jump through.

by Dan Miller on Dec 21, 2012 1:47 pm • linkreport

This article pretty much hits every single reason on why the whole building approval system in DC is a terrible mess. This is why DCs architecture is mediocre at best, bland in general, and stymied way too often.

by Jasper on Dec 21, 2012 2:15 pm • linkreport

The height's fine, but they could set back some of the upper floors a bit. DC's got too many sheer, flat-fronted buildings.

by andrew on Dec 21, 2012 2:16 pm • linkreport

There are all sorts of examples of a building this tall next to buildings not so tall all over DC itself. We don't even have to look at a different city.

Since the building won't block light what legitimate gripe could someone have about this building's height?

by drumz on Dec 21, 2012 2:18 pm • linkreport

Agreed on the height being fine. The Cairo building always stands out as how in-offensive that height disparity seems, allthough they clearly didn't think the same way 120 years ago. Maybe it was their knowledge of NYC and Chicago as much as the Cairo's relative height to it's neighbors.

I'm surprised they didn't give them a hard time about the style, but pleasantly surprised that they seem to be appreciating harmony. Maybe that's mostly with additions.
But totaly agree that this and similar projects ought to be approved by right to speed up their delivery time, if not, there will be more pressure on the height limit.

I wonder if U street is a historic district becasue there are other parts of it that could stand bulking up even though presently have historic 2 story buildings. It's a tricky balance between character and increased density. Maybe historic districts are the place to institute form based codes, again to speed the process up.

by Thayer-D on Dec 21, 2012 2:36 pm • linkreport

"lavished praise on the architectural design"

They must've seen different renderings than the ones shown here. I don't see much in the way of "design," just another bland lookalike building.

by Kaieesha on Dec 21, 2012 2:44 pm • linkreport

Given the almost total lack of sidewalk space on U Street, the community should have bargained for a first floor setback for a covered arcade, or something similar.

In this plan the sidewalks will be given to cafes for seating and pedestrians will have to continue weaving past each other in narrow open spaces.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 21, 2012 3:16 pm • linkreport

There needs to be viable infill that provides the affordable vitality that these communities need in order to keep them moving & living. Otherwise we have a museum set
And yet that's what our process keeps producing. Each stage adds time and cost to the design stage, while chipping away potential square footage where people could live and work.

by Gavin on Dec 21, 2012 3:22 pm • linkreport

+1 @Jasper

by Adam L on Dec 21, 2012 3:29 pm • linkreport

Tom C. makes a good point about the sidewalk width. Obviously, sidewalk issues were under-addressed across the street, with how railings jut into the public space for the Ellington building across the street.

This image doesn't really show how bad it is:
- http://www.flickr.com/photos/rllayman/390897236/
although it shows problems.

Google Street view does show it at its worse, especially in front of Saa Thai restaurant.

.... although I probably wouldn't normally favor a covered arcade like set up, there's no reason not to do it here to add to the vitality of the street experience.

Note that this type of discussion isn't normally part of the conversation with HPRB/HPO.

Probably DDOT public space doesn't do it either, at least to the dimension that these discussions need to be held.

I mention from time to time the design framework outline by the Design Advocacy Group of Philadelphia. They recommend that community groups use such a framework when weighing in on these kinds of decisions.

I can't find their checklist online anymore, but this blog entry lists the items:

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2005/08/speaking-of-effective-citizen.html

This checklist is from an NTHP publication:
- http://www.flickr.com/photos/rllayman/1524450483/

Neither is probably detailed enough, but this kind of structured approach would probably help move decision making along and make the process more helpful and useful.

Just as HPRB needs to develop such a framework, so does OP, Office of Zoning, DDOT, and provide such as a guideline to ANCs and community organizations as well, to increase the likelihood of improved outcomes.

by Richard Layman on Dec 21, 2012 4:49 pm • linkreport

Strip mall? Perhaps if there was parking. The new building seems like an overmassed a block killer much like the Ellington nearby, which is a block of total deadness despite the struggling ground floor retail.

by Rich on Dec 21, 2012 4:58 pm • linkreport

I understand protecting historically significant buildings (though I'm baffled how the 14/U McDonald's structure fits that description). I don't understand why we have this board basically forcing everything to look like it was built in the 1920s.

Did 1920s overseers make sure everything looked like the 1860s? No. Things happen in neighborhoods. That doesn't mean they need to be treated like Civil War battlefields.

Based on the images provided, this design looks far more like the Ballston corridor than something worthy of praise. I think of how pleasant it is to walk around Santa Monica / Venice, CA and see dynamic modern architecture built right next to older structures. It suggests a vibrant, evolving community, not one that is abandoning its past.

by modern on Dec 21, 2012 4:59 pm • linkreport

gee, you sound like Frank Gruber (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-gruber/). He and I are on an e-list together. I can't say that I generally am impressed with the examples he shows to illustrate his points which are similar to yours. How about some links?

by Richard Layman on Dec 21, 2012 6:51 pm • linkreport

"Did 1920s overseers make sure everything looked like the 1860s? " I think the point is that architects in the 1920's didn't design buildings in an 1860's neighborhood to purposfully stand out and alone from it's context. I think the preocupation for designing a building "of our time" was self evident and not predicated on how harshly a new building would clash with it's surroundings.

It's a matter of aesthetic values and how in architecture they where pretty consistent up until the advent of modernism. Everyone knows instances where clashing or standing apart from ones context actually improves the opposing aesthetics, but where that used to be the exception, nowadays it's unfortunatley too common.

by Thayer-D on Dec 21, 2012 9:19 pm • linkreport

It would be nice if they showed renderings or drawings, so we could see what this building actually looks like. Everything looks good in watercolor - Soviet housing blocks would look good in watercolor - but it conveys almost no information.

by Neil Flanagan on Dec 22, 2012 3:36 am • linkreport

@Richard Layman:

As an aside, do you have any idea why the Ellington's entrance is raised, requiring those steps and railings? I've always wondered why they didn't construct the building level with the sidewalk/street.

by 7r3y3r on Dec 22, 2012 12:31 pm • linkreport

8-stories is not really that tall for a main, wide, street in Washington. The building design is certainly more considerate to the adjacent historic resources of the U Street district than the existing Rite Aid. I really don't see any basis for HPRB to reject the proposal. Issues like articulation of the facade and sidewalk width fall under the purview of the zoning site plan review.

by jhuenn on Dec 22, 2012 1:48 pm • linkreport

Only in DC would the height of an 8-story apartment building on a busy street become a major issue. It's amazing anything gets built.

by ceefer66 on Dec 22, 2012 2:16 pm • linkreport

73 -- I do not. I'll try to remember to ask someone like Chris Shaheen about it.

ceefer66 - 8 stories? 1. G-d, Brookland... You should hear the arguments about 4 or 5 stories. I take photos of older apartment buildings in DC built on streetcar lines, to illustrate the point that we have extant examples of these building heights all across the city. What's bad is that DC Planning doesn't produce the kinds of materials needed to shape the arguments "better."

2. Jim Myers, a good writer but kind of a blowhard, was quoted in a piece in the Examiner about how his block is becoming condo canyon (there are a couple buildings, very small). It's 15th St. SE, a couple blocks from Safeway.

3. People often conflate one building that's taller to a place like Bethesda, which was a frequently made point wrt the Giant/Wisconsin Ave. project across from the Cathedral. Note there are a bunch of 6-8 story apartment buildings along Wisconsin.

While I generally am not in favor of "Matter of right" or at least, I think design review should be mandatory, and that MOR should be shifted to automate better development, not the least desirable, without the basics of zoning enablement, you're right. I don't think with today's expectations that if those sentiments had been in place 100 years ago, that it would have been possible to build the modern city.

by Richard Layman on Dec 22, 2012 3:02 pm • linkreport

@Thayer-D
"It's a matter of aesthetic values and how in architecture they where pretty consistent up until the advent of modernism. Everyone knows instances where clashing or standing apart from ones context actually improves the opposing aesthetics, but where that used to be the exception, nowadays it's unfortunatley too common."

That's to be your personal taste that modernism should just be a periodic accent rather than the standard aesthetic going forward, but it's certainly not inherently true. Why don't we let cities evolve with the times and develop an aesthetic that reflects both their history and their future rather than forcing the future to reflect the past?

Certainly all the modern office buildings downtown weren't heeding to the mansion and townhouse aesthetic of the 19th and early 20th century except some exceptional and well-deserved protected structures. Why should it be different the neighborhoods? I can't think of a modern, dynamic city where modernism is nothing more than an accent. Even in the U Street area there's many unabashedly modern structures of various sizes that have brought a nice visual appeal to the neighborhood.

by modern on Dec 22, 2012 10:33 pm • linkreport

This should be as tall as possible, as in the width of U Street + 20ft, not even zoning (but we all know that's never going to happen). Of all areas in DC, it's one of the best to max out density and increase the population to further support new growth with limited space to do so and further encourage more local and regional business. Why buildings aren't required to hit the height limit in these areas is beyond me, to be honest.

by Phil on Dec 22, 2012 11:08 pm • linkreport

This is ridiculous. With the proximity of this location to metro and downtown couple that with shortage of housing (especially affordable) in DC, this building needs to be 8 stories. With all the praise about the design, I just hope the design is as good as its being made out to be.

by Jacksom on Dec 22, 2012 11:37 pm • linkreport

Build it. All 8 floors. This site is across the street from a Metro station, and across from an existing 8-story building, exactly where we would want housing density. And this is not even new or controversial: tall buildings on main commercial streets stepping down to shorter mid-block row homes. It's a formula that works.

by David on Dec 23, 2012 6:33 am • linkreport


The Wallach place problems are the classic externality problem.

The question is the remedy. Direct payments to affected landowners is one way. A tax reduction to reflect diminished value is another.

by charlie on Dec 23, 2012 9:45 am • linkreport

Good thing taxes already go down if your property value goes down.

Also I'd like to see one instance in DC where one of these buildings diminished the value of nearby properties.

by MLD on Dec 23, 2012 12:06 pm • linkreport

Anti-Density review board :(

The building looks good and fits in. If it had initially been a story taller they would still want to take a story off.

The zoning should be coordinated with the historic review board so that we can zone buildings for the actual height that they are allowed to be.

by chris on Dec 23, 2012 1:09 pm • linkreport

Modern,
"That's to be your personal taste that modernism should just be a periodic accent rather than the standard aesthetic going forward, but it's certainly not inherently true."

My 'personal taste' for a "standard aesthetic going forward" is that there shouldn't be a standard aesthetic, at least one dictated by any one institution like the AIA,architecture schools or anyonelse. For me, a building's quality in a city has more to do with it's "urbanity" rather than it's particular style. I've seen great urban buildings in every style, but it's a fact that "traditional" styles where developed before the automobile while the automobile was an integral aspect of modernism, so it might be no surprise that most successful urban neighborhoods tend to have a preponderance of traditional buildings. I'd define urbanity as a buildings disposition to it's context like, does it humanize the scale of the street for a pedestrian, is it clearly readable in terms of entry/heiarcy, and is the street wall enhanced of broken. Most importantly, becasue all those aspects vary according to function is, does it give the pedestrian something to look at when strolling at 3 mph rather than driving at 35 mph.

"Why don't we let cities evolve with the times and develop an aesthetic that reflects both their history and their future rather than forcing the future to reflect the past?"
Who's holding back a city from evolving with thier times? Did I miss the memo or can't just leave it to future historians to decide what our time was about by what we built. And from what I see, it's eclectic, like it's been since the early 19th century, despite many a movement
s claim to the contrary.

I love many of the condo buildings that have infilled our historic neighborhoods like U street, whether they;ve been modernist, traditional or a blend. A skilfull designer can do a good job in any style and thankfully many of the 'modernist" styled buildings today have nothing to do with the street deadening qualities of mid-century modernism, wether on K Street, SW urban renewal, or Crystal City.

I feel like I should ask you why you're personal taste for architecture of "our time" should preclude historical styles. Does any other art form adhear so ideologically to one period in history as many modernists feel ours should architecturally? Modern means plural and eclectic while modernism is a historic ideology that renounces history not specifically sanctioned. Had the Renaissance architects thought that way, there never would have been a Renaissance.

by Thayer-D on Dec 23, 2012 8:57 pm • linkreport

Regarding infill buildings in any urban area I like to think there are thee main categories in the building design that have an affect on the neighborhood and the city as a whole: quality of the building elements (facade materials, retail tenants, etc), affordability of the space within the building, and the size of the building. In pretty much every case it's only possible to have two of these categories that are to everyone's liking. Small high quality buildings in urban areas require extremely high rent/purchase prices. Small affordable buildings in urban areas are only possible with low quality materials and are typically not built to last. Therefore it follows that if a building is to be high quality and affordable to rent/buy space in, it needs to be as big as the zoning regulations allow. Those who are activists for increasing affordable housing (and commercial space) should really be pushing for allowing all new buildings to be as large as possible.

by Jim Malone on Dec 24, 2012 1:19 pm • linkreport

Another boring DC building, although it will be a slight improvement to the Rite Aid that's there now.

DC should create a prize for architectural innovation, or set aside an area for experimentation.

by Ben on Dec 24, 2012 3:10 pm • linkreport

MLD -- "We should be asking why these companies have to go to the ANC and then the HPRB and then other people instead of just doing it all at once and combining feedback together to get a result."

The reason is that DC agencies are supposed to give the recommendations of the ANCs "great weight." Generally, any case before the ZC, BZA or HPRB must go before the ANC first, and typically that means two-to-three monthly appearances for more controversial cases, with a lot of back-and-forth and often concessions on the part of developers.

by Paul on Dec 24, 2012 3:15 pm • linkreport

Wallach Pl is not Elfreth's Alley.
The proposed building will not block their sunlight, but it will be visible in Wallach? I don't see why that is a pertinent concern. This project should go forward.

by DC20009 on Dec 24, 2012 5:12 pm • linkreport

@Thayer-D

1. Your correlation between modernism and cars doesn't really exist. Perhaps you developed that association because the style of design emerged during the height of auto dependence and, perhaps through nostalgia, you associated the urban structural landscape with a more traditional architectural style.

2. You were proposing to hold back back design by mandating certain architectural styles on serve as accents while other styles arbitrarily serve as dominant.

3. I have no strong preference for modern design over traditional. I don't know where you got that. My problem is why new development in that area must look like older developments in order to get approved.

by Modern on Dec 25, 2012 2:00 pm • linkreport

Your correlation between modernism and cars doesn't really exist.

Frank Lloyd Wright "imagined his utopian Broad-acre City in 1932 and worked on the plans until the end of his life in 1959. His fundamental idea was that the mass-produced automobile permitted universal car ownership, so that urbanism itself was a doomed concept. He wrote that the “complete mobilization of our American people is one natural asset of the machine, fast approaching,” and he believed that the automobile would decentralize the American way of life."

Le Corbusier "regarded automobiles, along with aeroplanes, ocean liners and the work of civil engineers, as the expressions of modernity by which any modern architecture must be tested."

And those who know more architectural history than I do can surely add many more citations.

by Ben Ross on Dec 25, 2012 4:07 pm • linkreport

there's another timeline where bauhaus style modernism died in infancy, and buy 2012 some folks blame the long dominant school of art deco for autocentrism.

ANY school of architecture that dominated the mid 20th century and which embraced technology would have been produced quotes like that. Autocentrism has nothing much intrinsically to do with ideological dislike of decoration - its just that the demise of art deco, the association of decorated arch with hostility to the machine age was strengthened.

In Nazi Germany there was great enthusiasm for the auto, and a strong preference for neoclassical architecture IIUC. Perhaps if they had won (heaven forbid) today in a post Nazi world modernism would be just emerging, and would be associated with new urbanism.

by althistorymaven on Dec 25, 2012 7:05 pm • linkreport

@ Modern,
I'm glad to see we are both stylistic agnostics when it comes to the appropriatness of architectural styles in contemporary work. BTW, there's nothing wrong with having stylistic preferences, whether they're cool or not. I guess I assumed you had a preference by statements like "I can't think of a modern, dynamic city where modernism is nothing more than an accent", or that your name is 'modern', but either way, we agree on the pluralism that exists in most aspects of modern culture.

"Your correlation between modernism and cars doesn't really exist" My impression comes from early modernists like LeCorbusier who depicted modernist towers surrounded by super highways like Villa Radieuse and the many urban renewal projects in America that enacted this distopian vision. Either way, cars where coming and Americans where going to love them no matter what style was in vogue, I just don't think they would have been given such prominance in cities where it not for the influence of modernism on post WWII architecture and urbanism.

"My problem is why new development in that area must look like older developments in order to get approved." I'm not sure that squares with your previous assertion that "Even in the U Street area there's many unabashedly modern structures of various sizes that have brought a nice visual appeal to the neighborhood."

@althistorymaven,
"the association of decorated arch with hostility to the machine age was strengthened" I never knew that decorated architecture harbored any hostility towards the machine age. Infact, 19th and early 20th century American architecture is noted for celebrating the "machine age" in the Chicago School. This percieved hostility was mostly directed towards architects who didn't buy into the modernist line that insisted on stylistic purity as a pre-requisit to the priest hood.

"Perhaps if they had won (the Nazis) today in a post Nazi world modernism would be just emerging, and would be associated with new urbanism." What!!! They had modernism in communist Russia. Theyhad art deco during FDR's presidency. What does that mean?

by Thayer-D on Dec 25, 2012 9:26 pm • linkreport

I love the argument that somehow lots of height and density will make housing more affordable. Yet all the projects that the developers are proposing are high-end, high-rent projects in high-priced areas. I guess there are those who think that building yet another condo complex in Dupont Circle, Tenley or Cleveland Park will lead to more affordable rents elsewhere in the city, but I don't see it.

by Bob on Dec 26, 2012 12:13 pm • linkreport

@Bob

This article might shed some light on why this is the case:
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-04/filtering-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-luxury-condo.html

Basically, lots of people with plenty of money want to live in the city. Developers are building high-end expensive buildings because there are plenty of people who will buy that. If you prevent them from building it, then those people with money who want to live in the city will just compete for something that already exists, crowding out the people who have less.

It's only part of dealing with affordable housing. But is there a reason we shouldn't allow developers to build?

by MLD on Dec 26, 2012 12:36 pm • linkreport

'"Perhaps if they had won (the Nazis) today in a post Nazi world modernism would be just emerging, and would be associated with new urbanism." What!!! They had modernism in communist Russia. Theyhad art deco during FDR's presidency. What does that mean?'

Art deco was of course widespread in the US in the 30s, but modernism was making gains in academe, and would dominated post war contstruction. In Nazi Germany modernism had been effectively destroyed as a movement, IIUC.

As for Russia, IIUC it was not until after Stalins death that modernism was revived in Russia. Anyway in Germany wins scenario, Russia is not a big cultural influence.

by althistorymaven on Dec 26, 2012 2:13 pm • linkreport

"Infact, 19th and early 20th century American architecture is noted for celebrating the "machine age" in the Chicago School. This percieved hostility was mostly directed towards architects who didn't buy into the modernist line that insisted on stylistic purity as a pre-requisit to the priest hood."

read again. I said with the DEMISE of art deco. IOW post 1945, as modernism became the dominant style, and opposition to modernism was associated with a longing for Victorian architecture. They were associated in peoples minds. Largely because of an accident of timing.

by althistorymaven on Dec 26, 2012 2:16 pm • linkreport

@Bob

There are plenty of wealthy people wanting to live in the city. Either they are going to buy a nice 2 BR condo on U St, or they are going to buy a renovated rowhouse in Petworth/Columbia Heights. Either way, they are going to be living somewhere, so the demand for everything else goes up just a bit.

by Kyle-W on Dec 26, 2012 3:07 pm • linkreport

althistorymaven,
Opposition to modernism wan't associated with Victorian architecture becasue it had long gone out of fashion, it was associated with traditionalism. And while modernism was dominant in commercial and civic work, Americans retained the same traditional/eclectic approach to their most personal architectural choices, their homes. Eclecticism's revival beyond the residential realm has contributed significalnty to our urban revival since the 1980's, much to the concternation of modernist purists who insist on conflating the word modern with modernist.

The public is the main beneficiary of this increased eclecticism and thus competition between differing stylistic camps in contemporary architecture. It's common to see a mid-century condo or office tower blow the socks of the original mid-century glass box much like the significant improvement of traditional residential work from the cartoony 1960's colonial, and everything in between.

And this guilt by association politics of architectural styles dosen't stand up to scruitny. Architect's are famous for prefering work over political ideology, no matter how passionately they sell themselves. Just read Architect's of Fortune to see how the early German modernists courted the Nazis, only to be rejected when they didn't fit the Nazi's schpiel about teutonic blablabla.

History isn't just about pretty decorations, although that's my favorite part.

by Thayer-D on Dec 26, 2012 9:32 pm • linkreport

The taste for Victorian architecture was at the heart of the return to the city movement in the 1960s to the 1990s - from the West Village to Park Slope to DuPont Circle and Bolton Hill and Back Bay. I'm not speaking of professional architects and not of philistines in the suburbs but of the young college educated taste makers.

And you are correct that guilt by association of styles is stupid - whether its associating traditional architecture with Nazism, or modernism with autocentrism.

by althistorymaven on Dec 26, 2012 10:30 pm • linkreport

I have to agree with you on the "back to the city" movement's pioneers, although white flight continued well into the 1970's. Jane Jacobs might be credited with some of the intellectual backbone but there must have been a home grown reaction to the sterility of mid-century modernism, like Clem Lebine's magazine in Brooklyn. There's some affinity to high victorian decorations and some hippy art work. Afterall, Stanford White was an opium addict, although imho, his most creative work was done before he was fully enslaved to the pipe.

by Thayer-D on Dec 27, 2012 8:36 am • linkreport

It is clearly too high. It towers over every other building in the immediate vacinity. One again the ANC has failed to people who LIVE in this neighborhood.

by MikeDC on Dec 27, 2012 6:00 pm • linkreport

It is clearly too high. It towers over every other building in the immediate vacinity.

So, it somehow towers over the Ellington (located across the street) despite being the same height?

And it certainly isn't taller than the Reeves Center. Or does 14th and U not count as the "immediate vacinity" [sic] ?

by Alex B. on Dec 27, 2012 6:13 pm • linkreport

These Wallach Place Whiners are my neighbors. It's amazing how outsized their influence has been. This project should have broken ground over a year ago.

A hotel would have been a better use of the space. We desperately need one and it would have added more life to the neighborhood without adding dogs!

by Ward 1 Guy on Dec 28, 2012 10:35 am • linkreport

@BobRoss -
The 20th century was defined by the automobile, so of course architects of the era were going to make statements linking their designs to the broader structural changes, just as today architects are linking their designs to transit and in-fill developments.

There still remains no fundamental correlation between modern design and auto-dependence. We see that proven over and over again in downtown cores with glistening skyscrapers.

by Modern on Dec 30, 2012 4:53 am • linkreport

What sense does it make to limit the size of a building literally on top of a metro station?

by adrian on Jan 2, 2013 10:58 pm • linkreport

There's an 8-story building on 14 and V. The world didn't end.

These historic preservation boards need to go.

by Michael Hamilton on Jan 4, 2013 10:19 am • linkreport

Historic preservation is why U street's charm is still there. They only need to be moderated and their mandate clarified as has been elaborated on this site before.

by Thayer-D on Jan 4, 2013 1:24 pm • linkreport

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