The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Breakfast links: Roadblocks and mental blocks

Room and Board not on board: Room and Board's financing fell through to buy the vacant commercial building at 14th and T. In December, an exciting proposal by Tryst, Diner, and Open City owner Constantine Stavropoulous to share the building among a diner, comedy club, yoga studio and dance company lost out to Room and Board. Will Stavropoulous be able to resurrect his original plan and bring more food and arts to 14th Street? (Tip: Scott G.)

Recently rejected Mount Pleasant library proposal. Image from DC Public Libraries.

Brown dreams of a DC covered in parking lots: New at-large Councilmember Michael Brown told the Kalorama Citizens' Association he wants to use public money to build municipal parking like Montgomery County's, the Current reports. Why is DC's newest member of the WMATA board eager to spend public money to make DC even more car-centric? As we learned from my interview with Brown before the election, Brown's heart is in the right place on transit, but he doesn't understand the relationship between subsidizing parking and discouraging transit use. Maybe that's because he can't remember the last time he rode Metro? (Tip: Reid.)

Would it have been the iPod wing? The U.S. Commission on Fine Arts has rejected a glass-box addition to the historic Mount Pleasant library. Anti-preservation Marc Fisher calls opponents the "taste police". What do you think?

Dueling Compact bills both pass: The Virginia legislature has passed both versions of the WMATA compact amendments, the "you get the house anyway" version and the "you get it as long as you pay for it" version matching DC's. Governor Kaine could sign Maryland Delegate Anna Sol Gutierrez (D-Mongtomery) has introduced the latter version in the Maryland House; the no-strings version is also in play there. All three jurisdictions have to pass the same one for anything to take effect.

How about some transit, PG? The Post's Get There is enthusiastic about Maryland's plans to widen MD-5 (Branch Avenue) south of the Beltway. It's too bad they doesn't recognize the problems in Prince George's headlong rush to sprawl. However, the Post does recommend toll or HOT lanes with transit. That's a step.

How about some transit, eastern shore? Maryland is thinking about adding a third span to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, since so many people drive across it in summer. BeyondDC points out that if so many people are driving from DC to Ocean City, Route 50 BRT could move them all in much less space and much lower cost.

Why no Brookland deck: Richard Layman explains why decking over the railroad tracks around Brookland, as some neighbors want, is really not feasible.

Whither dead big boxes? Infrastructurist looks at reuse opportunities for empty big-box retail sites. Over in Brookland, residents have been discussing possibilities for the empty National Wholesale Liquidators store, the central anchor of a very suburban strip mall on Rhode Island Avenue.

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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Radical modernist though I may be, I think that extension sucks. Glass can be a great way of connecting two disparate styles or forms, like a big, invisible shadow joint, but not if it's the whole freaking building.

There's no architecture there.

The Michael Brown story is hilarious, though. How can DC be more like Bethesda, 1995?

by цarьchitect on Feb 26, 2009 9:00 am • linkreport

The Mt Pleasant addition is awful. Im glad it was nixed.

Im also glad that the Corcoran didnt have the money to allow international vandal Frank Geary to put that trashpile next to their existing masterpiece.

by w on Feb 26, 2009 9:19 am • linkreport

Arch-Traditionalist that I am I would have to agree with öarüchitect's post. Although since it's completely divorced from the original building it wouldn't bother me if the truley avant guard wanted to fry in their glass cooker.

What really gets my goat is the thought of building another span across the bay and not having it be for rail transit. A rail line from Union Station would actually reduce the traffic on the existing spans. How great would that be taking the train for a day trip to the beach. Talk about a smart investment for our future. Anyone have a shovel?

by Thayer-D on Feb 26, 2009 9:21 am • linkreport

In better news, Bloomberg wants to close Times Square to auto traffic. It's on Drudge.

by Steve on Feb 26, 2009 9:32 am • linkreport

I'm pretty much a preservationist, but don't have too much problem with the Mt. Pleasant addition per se. What I do worry about is how much it'll cost to heat and cool, and upkeep on a huge expanse of glass is no walk in the park, either. And it won't look nearly as nice and neat once people have actually moved in and shoved their desks against the glass wall.

Bowdoin College made an addition to their museum (which looks much like the original Mt. Pleasant Library) which is a glass box. It houses the elevator (which couldn't be retrofitted into the original building) and various other things. It actually looks pretty cool. You can see it here To get a sense of how things go from planning to reality, you can see the planning picture here

Note that there is no space for anyone to push anything up to the glass in the Bowdoin addition.

by mecki on Feb 26, 2009 9:38 am • linkreport

I agree w/ öarüchitect.

My problem with the Mt Pleasant glass cube isn't so much that it would be terrible on its own terms as an obviously divorced addition. My problem is that it's so LAZY.

Even assuming a modernist rather than traditional addition is the right way to go (I disagree, but for the sake of argument), is *that* really the best we can do? How long did it take to design that? 4 minutes? Crap like this gives architecture a bad name.

by BeyondDC on Feb 26, 2009 9:51 am • linkreport

Did anyone make it out to Stuart Sirota's talk the other night about transit in Europe? He talked about how in Switzerland they have a requirement for transit for any village over 300 people. He's been working on a similar plan for the Eastern shore to get them to link villages and towns by transit rather than by freeways and to get the old eastern shore rail line to serve as the backbone for this. The idea also of having a rail only bridge would be fantastic.

As for the glass box and Fisher's illogic, I'll be commenting on that on my blog later today.

by Boots on Feb 26, 2009 10:06 am • linkreport

I understand the criticism coming from preservationists, but I think that this addition would be shot down if the proposal was anything other than bland sameness. I say this every single time architecture comes up on GGW: How is this "cube" uglier or more desultory than other, even worse projects that the same community groups have approved? Since when is an austere, striking modern form derogatory, but curb cuts and street level garages the opposite? Not to mention the fact that Mt. Pleasant needs all the help it can get to attract eyes on the street.

Preservationists decry modernist architecture because it is derivative; what they forget is that good design is all about contrasts. Your so called masterpiece in Mt. Pleasant is falling apart; a renovation deserves to incorporate and reflect how amazingly far we've progressed as a people in the last 84 years. Instead, we will construct a concrete square that offends no one, but inspires none either. We are guaranteeing that the District is going to look pretty crappy in 50 years when all those condos and library additions that were built to be unoffensive and/or uninspiring start to show their age.

That said, this addition was probably rightfully nixed, but I hate to see a young, local design firm with lots of potential get their wings clipped so ruthlessly. I hope they get a second shot. I cringe at what these preservationist people are going to do to David Adjaye's libraries .

by JTS on Feb 26, 2009 10:42 am • linkreport

I don't know if there are serious issues or not with the Post web site, but I've been having problems lately. It's been really slow.

by Jazzy on Feb 26, 2009 11:14 am • linkreport

A study done by the Maryland Transportation Authority pretty much shoots down the idea of establishing any form of transit over the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial (Bay) Bridge to serve points beyond Kent Island to Ocean City.

Baybridge Transit Study Complete

Study Found Transit-Only Option Not Viable in Terms of Either Cost-Effectiveness or Traffic Relief

Baybridge Transit Study (2.48 MB PDF file)

If I had it My way I would replace the existing MD US 50/301 crossing of the Chesapeake Bay with a 9 tower 6 lane cable stay bridge with provision for future rail.

Disclamer: I cross the Bay Bridge daily.

by Sand Box John on Feb 26, 2009 11:23 am • linkreport

John beat me to the punch on the Bay Bridge transit study that MTA did. Also surprised that BDC didn't take note of it when he made his blog post.

As for the Bay Bridge, if MTA ever does get serious about adding another span, there's nothing stopping them from incorporating either rail or HOV lanes into that 3rd span (buses/BRT, of course, could utilize the HOV lanes).

by Froggie on Feb 26, 2009 11:28 am • linkreport

My criticism is simple: this is not a striking building. It is not beautiful. It has no great ideas. It has no formal experimentation. It has way too much window space for a library (see Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Mitterand Branch).

I do agree, however, that DC crushes the inventiveness out of buildings, even traditional ones, with the review boards. Hopefully Adjae can do something interesting and beautiful.

The traditionalist mafia, and I mean that in the most endearing way, is going to hate on it, but I do like the Nelson-Atkins extension by Steven Holl. Typologically, both the original and extension are distinct objects, so the juxtaposition is refreshing rather than jarring, but again, it makes something more out of the glass boxes.

by цarьchitect on Feb 26, 2009 11:43 am • linkreport

If you want mass transit, this particular application has a cheaper solution than BRT:

Calculate how much it would cost, over the life of the proposed third span, for the state to instead rent a fleet of 1000ish school buses from latent county fleets and enroll them in a transit operation every summer.

Also: Do the Chinatown Buses do any east-west business in the summer?

by Squalish on Feb 26, 2009 11:55 am • linkreport

As a long-time user of the Mt Pleasant library, I will say that I really like it. I cannot access the Post site, so I haven't been able to see the addition or modification or whatever it is. I love all the window space.

by Jazzy on Feb 26, 2009 11:58 am • linkreport

> surprised that BDC didn't take note of it when he made his blog post

I didn't know about it. I'm looking at it now, but given that it was prepared under the same Ehrlich/Flanagan administration that intentionally undercounted ridership on the purple line study and tried its best to kill every transit project in the state, I can't say I trust a word in it.

> rent a fleet of 1000ish school buses from latent county fleets and enroll them in a transit operation every summer.

I guess that would work, but the buses would have to stop to make bathroom breaks. It's a long ride to OC.

by BeyondDC on Feb 26, 2009 12:07 pm • linkreport

"Preservationists decry modernist architecture because it is derivative; what they forget is that good design is all about contrasts. Your so called masterpiece in Mt. Pleasant is falling apart; a renovation deserves to incorporate and reflect how amazingly far we've progressed as a people in the last 84 years"

I think most people decry modernist style buildings because they are ugly, and usually don't try to give someting back to the street. As for a renovation needing to reflect how amazingly we've progressed, that's part of the modernist mythology, that the newer the machine, the better off humans must be. Why is it that in so many human endevors we seem to be going back to many of lessons that where thrown out in the name of progress?

As for "DC crushes the inventiveness out of buildings"

1-The Campidoglio's "revolutionary" form was the product of Rome's municipality insisting that Michelangelo keep the existing medeval buildings on site.

2-John Wellborn Root's Monadnock building, one of the so-called precursors to modernism, the client said he didn't want to pay for any extraneous decorations.

Point being, this myth about DC being unable to produce great architecture is pure bunk. It's the architects who won't stop whining long enough to figure out there's more than one way to skin a cat. And that's because they're taught not to look at precedence before WWII, thereby impoverishing their problem solving vocabulary, because if ideology.

by Thayer-D on Feb 26, 2009 12:23 pm • linkreport

A couple of points about that report:

1) As I anticipated, the methodology is skewed. For example, the study does not seriously look in to how many people would use transit to Ocean City. It simply assumes a transit mode share of 5% (of certain types of trips) and moves on from there. Another example is that in looking at the costs for a DC-OC BRT, the report assumes we'd need a whole new transitway for the entire distance (we don't), drastically increasing the estimated cost.

2) The report is focused only on adding transit to the existing two bridges, and mainly considers commuters. It says very clearly in multiple places that any studies considering adding new capacity across the bay (as in a new bridge) should include transit, and also says that there is more potential for transit to OC than for regular commuters.

Basically, that report tells us nothing other than we need another study.

by BeyondDC on Feb 26, 2009 12:23 pm • linkreport


I'm not following you. How does a roman plaza and a building in Chicago somehow refute the point that architects can't take chances in this city? Are you saying that bureacracy and finance gets it, but architects, artists, and artisans do not? Are you sure all the blame should fall on these unskilled architects that dont know anything? They seem to do just fine (and see their projects come into fruition) in other cities.

All these talentless, egotistical students of graduate schools whose faculty you deride manage to find gainful employment all over Europe, Korea, Tokyo, Boston, NYC, San Fran, Portland, and even Philly. Washington is a joke in parts of the architecture community because you are essentially designing for a bureacracy. Those who work in the city know the system; some, like Studio 27, and LAB have done well and attempted to add to the dialogue on new design here, but their ambitious projects are elsewhere (Lab recently won a major design contest in France using a project for half street SE that was shelved). Ultimately, buildings here emerge exactly like they "should" look. Even temporary installations, like those you see at the Tate or under the Brooklyn Bridge, are anathema to Washington's preservation ethos ("such an installation won't 'read' well!").

I love this city to death, but the fact that it consistently repels new architecture and design ideas is a huge defecit, and is extremely frustrating. I've lived here long enough to see talented architects (including my fiance), come here to try and start a practice to address what they saw as an untapped market simply walk away.

It is more than just bad schooling that gives us bad projects, Thayer-D, it is a burdensome creative process stymied even more by preservation activists who seek to save for the sake of saving. We will look back on such virulent preservation efforts as fallacy when we have nothing but buildings by committee on our streets and in our neighborhoods

by JTS on Feb 26, 2009 1:34 pm • linkreport


I think his point is that you don't have to reinvent the wheel to have a creative architecture. DC is right to have architecture to submit to a larger end, that of the art of the city. Places like Florence and Sienna and yes DC are great places because they have let the higher end reign supreme over the individual's desire to create some "signature" building.

One can work within restraints to create something wonderful, but trying to fit a square peg in a round hole isn't going to cut it.

by Boots on Feb 26, 2009 1:59 pm • linkreport

Perhaps the more important point here is whether or not a federal agency should be making these decisions.

As for the design itself, this one of the few cases where I think the neighbors should have their say. Unlike other projects(say the 14th and Swann development) this is a public building. I don't personally love the design, but I do still wish people had less conservative taste.

Also, to me, the original is pretty ordinary. Maybe they should just tear the whole thing down and start again?

by Daniel on Feb 26, 2009 2:07 pm • linkreport


I'll spell it out. As an architect, one dosen't usually get to dictate the program, in other words, whether the parameters be imposed by the site (Rome), the client (Chicago) or HPRB, one still has to produce a design. Assuming an architect should "take chances" with every commision (I don't agree BTW), then take your chance and stop whining about what ever culture the city you're working has.

And I'm not deriding the students as much as the schools they come from. It's not their fault they get brainwashed with this mistycal architect crap that books like The Fountain Head promote.

This whole us versus the big, bad beaurocracy is an excuse like Mommy won't let me scream out loud in a restaurant. You can't scream because it's annoying to others much like if every architect got to treat all their commissions as only opportinities for self expression, our streets would have no cohesion.

It's clearly a difference in philosophy. I look at architecture as a craft, a trade if you will, where as for others it's more like fine art. But unlike fine art, one just can't leave the museum, I'm stuck living with it day after day.

"Washington is a joke in parts of the architecture community because you are essentially designing for a bureacracy" I think this "Architecture Community" you describe is the real joke, one many young architects figure out is on them, years after they leave graduate school.

by Thayer-D on Feb 26, 2009 2:16 pm • linkreport

My take on architects is that they have to be able to take all the boundary conditions that apply to the site, and work with them to create something new.

I lived in Berlin for 10 years, in which time a large number of empty spaces were filled in. Two sets of projects really made me realize how important being willing to work within constraints was. The first was the Potsdamer Square, which was simply an empty space, many acres big. Most of the architecture on that was built here was ugly: Big boxes with random agglomerations of decorations. Except for the Sony center, which actually had some flair, the rest neither corresponded to the city as a whole, nor did it add anything interesting.

The square behind the Brandenburg gate, in contrast, was given a set of constraints, especially in having to do with how much glass vs. how much masonry was acceptable. The final result is great - no doubt modern, but with accents taken from the rest of the city. Nobody will every think that this is old (no disneyfication here) but there is also no doubt that it belongs in the city of Berlin.

Good contraints + good architects = a great city.

by mecki on Feb 26, 2009 2:23 pm • linkreport

Does anyone build with stone anymore? It doesn't seem so.

I think this is one reason I like the Mt Pleasant library. All libraries should be made of stone. Don't tear it down!

by Jazzy on Feb 26, 2009 2:43 pm • linkreport

What I find really ironic about the academic architecture community is that modernism (especially the geometric sculpturalist variety) has become the safe and expected choice. Those who design wacky shapes are universally praised, while those who dare to design traditionally-adorned buildings are attacked. The Howard Rourke of 2009 would be trying to design something Victorian, and all his peers would be attacking him for not abiding by the prevailing modernist orthodoxy.

by BeyondDC on Feb 26, 2009 2:55 pm • linkreport

@mecki -

You nailed it. Good constraints. Absolutely essential. Here, we have numerous, burdensome, bad constraints. It hurts, and great projects aren't proposed as a result, or they are, and get entangled in preservationist, NIMBY, CFA, ANC, etc. clamoring.

I think that is a bit simplistic, BeyondDC. Perhaps at an undergraduate level, but not where it counts. Spend some time at a graduate school and you'll see aspiring architects killing themselves to create projects that are challenging and innovative for way more than just their appearance. The best architectural critiques are the ones where the student is credited with enhancing or drawing upon the surroundings of the project as much as they are for the features of the project itself. I think that the problem with graduate programs (which all graduate programs have) is that graduating is probably too easy. the old adage: getting a phd is a test in perserverance, not competance, ingenuity, or aptitude.

by JTS on Feb 26, 2009 3:44 pm • linkreport

First off, yes, I'd agree that it's a cruft addition.

But I'm always mindful of how old European cities, the ones known for the stewardship of their built environment, take such care to ensure that all of their new buildings are built in appropriate revivalist styles.

You will note the third-floor windows on the Amsterdam Concert Hall - that comes right out of an architectural copybook that some third-rate Dutch builder cribbed from a book of Palladio's drawings.

This is, of course, the rule rather than the exception.

About libraries and additions. The library in Pawtucket, RI, links a 1890s building and a 1930s stripped-classical one - Cram, Goodhue, and Furgeson, of collegiate-revivalist fame - using a modern wing. It's a lot better than trying to glom on a duplicate of either of the original wings.

We do this in DC museums. I'm thinking of the interior courtyard additions to the Natural History Museum and the National Portrait Gallery - the way to add to those buildings, most respectfully, involves glass and steel.

by David Ramos on Feb 26, 2009 4:18 pm • linkreport

FYI, I love Bertram Goodhue. Nothing wrong with his scholarly, well-executed, revivalism. It's the contemporary excrement that passes for historical revivals that I object to.

by David Ramos on Feb 26, 2009 4:20 pm • linkreport

I wonder how the glass expansion would look in 10 years, plus the heating and other costs. OTOH, I think a bland but sensitive addition to the library (which I use on occasion) might actually be worse and that's probably what they'll get--a knock-off of the original that looks cheap from day one.

by Rich on Feb 26, 2009 4:26 pm • linkreport

I'm not just talking about academia as it relates to students. Remember the hissy fit the architectural community threw back in 2006 when rumor leaked that GSA might appoint a traditionalist as chief architect? I sure do.

by BeyondDC on Feb 26, 2009 4:27 pm • linkreport


When is it "scholarly, well-executed, revivalism" and when is it "excrement that passes for historical revivals"?

What you don't seem to account for is it's a matter of opinion. One man's trash is another man's treasure, it's the moralizing on a soap box that get's a little fragrant.

by Thayer-D on Feb 26, 2009 4:49 pm • linkreport

I've put a lot of thought into this discussion and posted them on my blog here. I hope no one minds my linking to it.

Other than that, I'd like to comment that JTS, your argument,

"I say this every single time architecture comes up on GGW: How is this "cube" uglier or more desultory than other, even worse projects that the same community groups have approved? Since when is an austere, striking modern form derogatory, but curb cuts and street level garages the opposite?"

Sets up a false set of opposites. I certainly would not say that "curb cuts and street level garages" are opposed to a glass cube, rather I say they are BOTH equally bad.

David Ramos: Can you give examples of "contemporary excrement that passes for historical revivals?" I just want to know if you consider those who truly are doing traditional architecture part of this or just those like seen here:

by Boots on Feb 26, 2009 10:36 pm • linkreport


Allow me to tell you what the loads are on the Bay Bridge, The vast majority of the user of the bridge are commuters. Daily peak runs from 0500 to 0900 eastbound and 1530 to 1830 westbound in the winter time. in the summer time the peak eastbound extends about an hour longer in the PM daily 1.5 hours on Thursdays and 2 hours on Fridays. The heaviest eastbound Fridays are on 3 day weekends year round.

I will also note that Ocean City is not the only destination people go to after crossing the bridge. There are at least a half dozen Atlantic Ocean destination that people are traveling to, most of which are not in the State of Maryland. Then there are those that are not going to the ocean destinations at all such as the Saint Michaels Maryland and Herrington Delaware.

My anecdotal observation would indicate that transit from one or more points west of the Bay Bridge to Ocean City is not justified. I cross the bridge daily westbound between 1800 and 1900 and eastbound 2000 to 2130. On evening when I have gone through toll plaza when it is backup a half a mile or more traffic is moderate to heavy free flowing eastbound on MD US-50 from the MD US-50/301 split to MD 404 in Wye Mills. a significant percentage turns east on MD 404. From Wye Mills to Easton traffic is moderate free flowing. By the time I get past Cambridge the traffic is lighter then it is during mid day.

by Sand Box John on Feb 26, 2009 11:05 pm • linkreport

So why not have a dedicated HOV/transit lane on the bridge? Allow transit services, regardless of destination, to use the shoulder to skip the queue and then get across the bridge easily. Give transit an advantage in a case where supply cannot meet demand.

by Alex B. on Feb 27, 2009 12:05 am • linkreport

Yes, we should all race backwards! While we’re ridding the city of modernity and modern architecture, can we also get the electricity, plumbing and air-handling systems out of our buildings, and get back to wattle and daub?

I’ve never understood the historic-architecture-is-better argument, because “historic” architecture wasn’t “historic” when it was made. The Greeks borrowed a lot from the Etruscans, who borrowed from the Myceans, etcetera, but they made an architecture of their own. They didn’t say, “Man, those Hittites had the best architecture, we should just reproduce that!” The Greek temples and cities reflected the technology, materials, tools, construction methods, ecclesiastical culture, etc… of the time. That doesn’t make it better - that makes it right for the Greeks around 400 BC. And now we want to stop, and go back to the Beaux Arts just because someone’s mother likes it more? I don’t get it.

That being said, I’m not going to argue that the Mt. Pleasant Library addition is a good piece of architecture – to me it seems quite under-cooked. I will say, though, that the MTP Library addition is as much a result of the design, construction technology, and culture of today as the Temple of Athena Nike was in 421BC.

JTS is absolutely right to say that there is waaaaaay too much bureaucracy in this town (which only makes sense, I suppose). Jane Jacobs writes extensively about how there needs to be two or three levels of decision makers max… and who knows how many levels there are here? Everything becomes watered down just to get approval and get construction going. I could say more, but I've got to get to bed...

by MarkM on Feb 27, 2009 12:13 am • linkreport

Mark, the things people like about historic architecture have little to do with age itself and lots to do with human-scale adornment. It's not that anybody wants to return to the past, it's that people want buldings with details scaled to be appreciated by humans. To the extent that desire for ornament and scale gets confused with desire for old, it's because old architecture was much better at providing those things than new architecture. I'm all for contemporary architects using contemporary materials to design buildings with new types of ornament and detail, but the architecture community doesn't seem interested. Do you understand the difference?

Sand Box: All I'm asking is that before the state invests upwards of a billion dollars to build a new bridge, they study options.

by BeyondDC on Feb 27, 2009 12:46 am • linkreport


You are confusing modern architecture with modernist style architecture. (See Oxford Dictionary) What is the difference between the Romans "borrowing" from the Greeks and us borrowing from the Beauxarts, nothing. The Romans had concrete, so according to your logic they built pure sham buildings because they where clad in stone or faced with brick. If you like modernist style buildings over traditionalist buildings, great, variety is the spice of life, but to regurgitate the ideology of a failed and historical modernist modern movement dosen't cut it.

BTW, asking your Mom if she likes a building is a way of reminding you to consider 99.9% of the users of your building will experience a building apart from all the intellectualizing we all do. If that's not important to you, then enough said.

by Thayer-D on Feb 27, 2009 7:25 am • linkreport

Alex B, BeyondDC,

A dedicated HOV or transit facility on any new bay bridge is basically of no use when people are heading in nearly a dozen different direction after they cross the bridge.

John in the sand box of Maryland's eastern shore.

by Sand Box John on Feb 27, 2009 7:33 am • linkreport

The thing I love about this argument is that we'll go around and around, and no one's mind will change... But here I go anyway. ;)


Why would I say the Romans built sham buildings? I would say what I said, the Romans borrowed from the Greeks but made an architecture of their own. They invented concrete and the arch - two huge technological advancements - and their architecture reflected that. The Romans had to invent new brickwork and scaffolding methods to use these technologies, but they didn't try to confine the arch to something that "looked Greek". They didn't try to make the Basilica of Maxentius look like a Greek Temple! Please understand this, the Greeks ***could not have imagined*** what the Romans created! Did people hate it because it was so new and different? I don't know. Would my mother have hated it? I don't know. Did that make it (Roman architecture) worse? I don't think so.


The problem with small scale details is that they require a lot of thought, drawings, and craftspeople, who in turn need to get paid (well) for their skill. I have no issue with this. I'd love for every building to have as much thought and care and craft go into it as a Carlo Scarpa, Frank Lloyd Wright, or Renzo Piano building. However, because this is DC, I have to have a design approved by 500 community groups, I have to prep for those meetings, I have to take time away from other projects to go to those meetings, and I have to bill the client for said meetings. In the mean time, I've got a client who's losing money and just starts imploring me to do whatever these committees ask. Then s/he also wants to save as much money as possible because we're now behind schedule, so the small scale things get left out. Unfortunately, it's much cheaper to build with large 4'x8' products than with brick. I'm just sayin', there is a direct correlation to what JTS brought up and architecture in DC.

by MarkM on Feb 27, 2009 8:35 am • linkreport

Scholarly, well-executed, revivalism:

(Chapin Hall, Williamstown, Mass. - Ralph Adams Cram ~1920)

Excrement that passes for historical revival:

(Chevy Chase Banks - contemporary - not by any means the worst case, as there is precedent for equally-awkward temple-front banks in small towns)

Too much neo-traditional work is sloppy. It lacks the density of detail that characterizes the supposed prototypes; the quality of materials and workmanship, with expensive labor, fall far short. Too often, the scale of decoration is mismatched with the scale of the building. Enormous structures take on the look of tiny houses and churches, when the 19th century architect would have built a palazzo-looking building (think Woodies building) or something like a textile mill.

Much work is sloppy, no matter the school of thought. I just don't think that a designer gets a free pass because it's got brick walls instead of glass.

Revivals, as understood in the 19th and early 20th centuries, are based on the careful study and adaptation of precedent. Perhaps this is literal translation, as from an architectural pattern book to a house; maybe the act requires more analysis and creativity. But there's study required. Too many builders today seem to think that it's enough to slap a random gable on, and we're done.

Even the 19th century practice of architecture does not depend only on modest adherence to precedent. Certain exceptional individuals - take Frank Furness and the violence he did toward rules of ornament - turned the grammar of traditional building on its head. And those lessons filtered out into the realms of the architects, builders, and engineers who create the bulk of the environment.

by David Ramos on Feb 27, 2009 8:46 am • linkreport

Sand Box John,

All I'm talking about is some sort of facility that would allow for buses to have an advantage. Of course there are tons of destinations on the far side of the bridge - you don't need a dedicated transitway for that part.

All I'm talking about is studying the options so that transit services could get across the bridge and the traffic jams before it faster. Let them bypass the queues by using the shoulder, etc. If you coupled that with a BRT service from Annapolis to DC, you'd have the makings of a pretty decent bus service connection across the bay.

by Alex B. on Feb 27, 2009 8:59 am • linkreport


Your right about this being a circular argument, but it's kind of fun seeing how many points you leave unchallenged.

Here's a suggestion next time you go to one of these community group meetings:

1-Think of the community you are presenting to as many peoples mothers, in otherwords, completely ignorant of the modernist ideological box modernists work from.

2-This might lead you to do something they like first off since most people don't think steel skeletons, i-phones and other technical gizmos should affect their architecture any more than the organic food or acoustical music they enjoy.

3-Since you'd actually be trying to please them you wouldn't have to go back 500 times to get it approvals.

4-With all that time and money you saved, put it back in the building and I guarantee the passerby (Mom) will appreciate it a lot more than having to read about it in a book they'll never buy.

I remember an old boss of mine saying he was going to "shove glass and steel down their throats" reffering to the modernist style building he wanted to impose in historical Old Town Alexandria. Suffice it to say he wasn't succesful with that and consequently was dismissive of the traditional building finally realized. Good job?!?

by Thayer-D on Feb 27, 2009 8:59 am • linkreport

There is a very simple solution for details: restart the factories that built precast terracotta ornamental panels. Most of the dense, floral or geometric decoration you see on North American commercial buildings 1890-1930 is terracotta. This is the stuff that we associate with Louis Sullivan, though he drew his own panels. This stuff is light, it can be cheap, and it offloads the design-detailing work to a factory.

I'm not sure why neo-traditional architects in this country ignore the lessons and innovations that came after the Civil War. You know, lessons like "how to make a tall commercial building not look like it's wearing a hat" and "dude, libraries might work better if the buildings aren't symmetrical!" I can only assume that it's because Classical Is Better, or because traditionalist architectural history courses run out of steam before they deal with romanesque revival ideas.

But if we can't get organic-looking terracotta ornamentation, 3form ain't so bad either.

by David Ramos on Feb 27, 2009 9:02 am • linkreport


Guess what all the Modernists thought of Ralph Cram?

Excrement that passes for historical revival

"Revivals, as understood in the 19th and early 20th centuries, are based on the careful study and adaptation of precedent."

Exactly!!! And that's exactly what dosen't happen in most Architecture Schools. You arn't going to "get" ornament if you don't practice, and if the schools don't let you and your client say's "give me" you get "Too much neo-traditional work is sloppy" You've made my argument.

by Thayer-D on Feb 27, 2009 9:05 am • linkreport


1. Let me refer to my previous argument. Why would I limit my mother's experience to Greek when she could have Roman? If that's to implicit let me say this, why should I subject her to something from the past (Greek), when I have the possibility to give her something she couldn't have imagined (Roman) but still loved? I think you're being awfully condescending to my mother. ;)

2. I don't get 2. But I will say this, no one asks Apple to keep making the original Mac because it was the best computer, and it looks the way a computer should look, and we should all refer back to it. We, as a people, keep making it better.

3. Maybe I wasn't clear, those 500 meetings are required. Period. There are too many layers of crap to get through. Which leads to 4... G'town and Old Town are the South Street Seaport of DC and Virginia - a set-piece frozen in time, and kept that way by the "overseers" who know what's best for the property owner and the citizen. Once again, too many layers of crap.

@David Ramos,

I agree with most of your arguments, and I would say most clients can only afford the Chevy Chase Bank, sadly.

by MarkM on Feb 27, 2009 10:07 am • linkreport

>The problem with small scale details is that they require a lot of thought, drawings, and craftspeople, who in turn need to get paid (well) for their skill.

I agree with most of your arguments, and I would say most clients can only afford the Chevy Chase Bank, sadly.

Fair enough. But let's be honest with ourselves then. If we're building unadorned crap because it's cheap, let's stop trying to pass it off as good. No one ever claims WalMart is great architecture. Let's treat glass curtain walls the same way.

And of course, I assume this means you agree that when we *do* have the money (and sometimes we do), we ought to be adding appropriate details?

by BeyondDC on Feb 27, 2009 10:16 am • linkreport

Sand Box: Just because the majority of traffic is doing one thing doesn't mean there isn't a market for another.

The majority of the traffic on I-95 is not going to Manhattan, yet there is a huge market for DC-to-Manhattan buses.

If 200,000 people per weekend go from the DC region to Ocean City (and probably another 100k to the other resorts), there IS a market for getting them there. Only an ideologue would suggest there is only one possible way to accomplish that.

by BeyondDC on Feb 27, 2009 10:19 am • linkreport


"why should I subject her to something from the past?"

Everything before this instant is from the past, be it modernism or greek architecture. Modernists like to draw arbitrary lines in time that delineate the past from modern, but the further modernism's heyday receedes the harder it is to fool the public whith this kind of retoric.

As for the 500 meetings you are forced to go to, chin up, you'll convince those philistines eventually:)

by Thayer-D on Feb 27, 2009 10:33 am • linkreport

But I want exposed I-beams and ornament. Why can't I have that?

I-beams may not be perfectly truthful architecture, but they are more honest than buttresses. I miss the 20s and 30s, when art deco was still hot and the modernists were humanists at the core. Even the fights they had were more fun!

And come on T-Dawg, you can't dictionary-define "modern" out of meaning, Modern architecture means all styles and techniques committed to trying new technologies and forms. Defining one's own time, not just being built in the time.

I was up at Princeton in January, and had a look around Whitman College, by Demetri Porphyrios, supposedly a great traditionalist, as well as the new bio library, by Frank Gehry. Hilariously, I found Whitman to be cold, ugly, and poorly detailed, and Gehry's shamble beautiful, warm, and meticulously detailed.

Does Porphyrios just need to practice more?

by цarьchitect on Feb 27, 2009 11:12 am • linkreport

Why bother making another span over the Chesapeake on router 50; why not just build another bridge somewhere else.

Why not build one in St. Marys or Calvert County on the west side of the bay connecting to Dorchester County on the other side and then creating a straight shot to Ocean City via Salisbury and route 50.

It could be done by going down route 5, 235 or down route 4 then almost going circular around Blackwater refuge and then lining completely up with 50 in Salisbury.

The problems would be what Calvert, St. Marys and Dorchester Counties have to say about it, how to get around Blackwater refuge and the currents of the water there.

It would be better than putting all your eggs in one basket with going over the Chesapeake bay bridge, plus they could build a completely new bridge that could accommodate cars, trains and while doing that could get Amtrak or Marc to go to Southern Maryland by basically giving them a route.

by Kk on Feb 27, 2009 11:13 am • linkreport


I wish we built a bit smaller (especially in building footprint),wiser, and more craftfully (yeah, that's right, I made up a word). And when the budget is there, I would love to add appropriate details.


I guess we'll agree to disagree. The point I'm making is why should anyone be hamstrung and prevented from innovation because that's what you like? I don't ask you to type your posts on carbon paper and have them delivered to me with carrier pigeon. Or, should I? ;)

by MarkM on Feb 27, 2009 11:16 am • linkreport

BeyondDC, Alex B.,

Basically what you are calling for is a dedicated lane on the bridge that nearly empty busses will use when they cross the bridge heading to their various final destinations.

I live over here. I know where the people are going after they cross the bridge. I know what the traffic volumes are on the various routes east of the bridge. There is not enough demand to justify transit.

Hell, there is barely enough demand to justify the transit service that presently exists over here that travels between the various communities.

The traffic over here is not congested like it is over there. One can drive at 65 MPH over 95 percent of the distance between Kent Island and Ocean City on MD US-50 and not get stopped by the Maryland State Police. On the 2 lane state roads maintaining the posted speed limit is not a problem.

by Sand Box John on Feb 27, 2009 11:17 am • linkreport

@ öarüchitect

You can define modern architecture anyway you'd like, I'll stick with the commonly understood dictionary defenition.

And I'm glad you enjoyed Gehry, that's what we like to call a difference of opinion, and we're all the beter for it.


I don't know where you got the idea that I'm telling you how to do your buildings or that you are being "hamstrung or prevented from being innovative". We where simply debating philisophical points, nothing personal. I personally love a bit of glass and steel now and then, especially those great lightwells in the early Chicago School Office buildings. Peace out.

by Thayer-D on Feb 27, 2009 11:41 am • linkreport


You raise good and valid points. I do think that Chevy Chase's very uninformed classical is horrendous, however I think it just gives contemporary classical architects a bad name. I don't think that it costs and arm and a leg to build a good traditionally detailed building, and in fact I think it's cheaper.

The latest New Urban News has a good little illustration of two townhouses one modernist, one traditional. The traditional one, is surprise, cheaper and sold faster.

This is the point, that architects are NOT being trained to do classical work well that is CLEARLY in demand. I think we can do great work that is not expensive, if we are willing to take the time to look at good details that are both properly proportioned and details that work in a practical sense.

Sometimes these details cost a bit more up front, but will last a LOT longer. Look at any building from the 1920s (including the Mt Pleasant library) and even without proper maintenance are in a LOT better shape than buildings from the 1970s.

I still would like to know if there is any contemporary classical work that you dont consider rubbish? Perhaps you are aware of John Blatteau's (formerly known as) Riggs banks on Connecticut in Dupont and on Wisconsin in Bethesda?

by Boots on Feb 27, 2009 11:45 am • linkreport

Just out of curiosity, do you and BDC see my name with cyrillic characters, or metal ones?

by цarьchitect on Feb 27, 2009 12:06 pm • linkreport

Boots, Blatteau's building is plenty beautiful, and the details are well done, but it is completely out of context...

I do wonder why trads don't adopt BIM technology, or work on C&C stone milling. Rapid prototyping and prefabrication would probably cut down manufacturing costs. Drawing classical ornament is really easy in SketchUp, especially once you know all the proportions you need. It's not as pretty as a charcoal drawing, but it can be rendered just as well.

by цarьchitect on Feb 27, 2009 12:26 pm • linkreport


I think there is demand for seasonal service to the beaches. That was the impetus of BDC's original post on the subject.

My whole point was that transit is no better than driving if you're stuck in the same traffic. So, allow that transit to bypass the traffic and have a HOV/transit lane on the bridge that allows them to make up some time.

It's just an idea, but I think we're talking about very different things.

Tsar, I see cyrillic, for what it's worth. I love the way cyrillic looks - I have my good ol' Caps shirt with 'Ovechkin' in cyrillic.

by Alex B. on Feb 27, 2009 12:57 pm • linkreport

Sorry about your name. I copy it from your postings and that's the way it comes out. It looks like Russian letters, but I mean no disrespect.

A nice brick traditional building is the Butterfield condo on Penn. Ave. in Capiton Hill. No cut stone, just prefabricated industrial components - bricks.

by Thayer-D on Feb 27, 2009 12:59 pm • linkreport

Disrespect? No I am just wondering if there is some kind of character problem in your browser.

by цarьchitect on Feb 27, 2009 2:27 pm • linkreport

I see it under your posts as Cyrillic, but when I copypaste it into a reply the Cyrillic characters get lost.

Sand Box: We understand that you live over there. We are not talking about service that targets people who live on the Eastern shore and commute west. We are talking about an entirely different market.

by BeyondDC on Feb 27, 2009 6:21 pm • linkreport


The market does not exist. There are more then a dozen different destination once one clears Kent Narrows. The Bay Bridge study looked at destination in the MD US-50 corridor only and came up with a whopping total of 870 trips on non summer weekends and 2,885 trips on a summer weekend. The run is over 130 miles. I would hazard a guess that if you added the Delaware destination into the mix the numbers would likely not be more the double what study came up with for the MD US-50 corridor. WMATA has routes that run a fraction of that distance with numbers that are far greater then that.

If there were a market Grayhound or Trailways would filling it.

We lost the commuter flight that use to fly between National and Salisbury. A couple of years ago a start up airline had plans to establish hourly service between BWI and Salisbury that never got off the ground because there was no market for it.

by Sand Box John on Feb 27, 2009 11:38 pm • linkreport

i'm surprised there hasn't been more discussion of michael a. brown's horrible, horrible, talk about above-ground municipal parking garages? i would have a few questions for him:

1) why are you trying to encourage a modal shift to more cars, more driving, away from transit?

2) where does the district own all this land that you would waste on parking garages?

3) if the district does own any land that could be used for such a garage, wouldn't it be worth a lot more to the district in tax receipts to develop it to a higher use?

i really fear the seemingly tone-deaf suburban-driver mentality this man brings to having a seat on the wmata board—and the dc council.

by IMGoph on Mar 2, 2009 10:30 am • linkreport

The study linked above (written by anti-transit ideologues) suggests there *is* a market. There is a huge difference between a downtown-to-beach bus and a BWI-to-Salisbury flight.

by BeyondDC on Mar 3, 2009 10:19 am • linkreport


No, I didn't know that the Riggs Banks were contemporary! That's exciting. Thank you. It turns out that there are also other Blatteau branches in the area.

I do admire Gil Schafer's house that recently turned up in the New York Times: . Most of the good revival work I've seen, in my own travel, follows vernacular or influenced by textile mills, but that's a function of my time in New England.

I tend to pay more attention to revivalist architecture that draws on the historical sources that I'm interested in: folk architecture, mills and work by "architectural engineers," and then romanesque, gothic, or late 19th century eclectic. I have something personal against symmetry.

by David Ramos on Mar 3, 2009 9:06 pm • linkreport

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