Greater Greater Washington

Eric Colbert releases new renderings for 5333 Connecticut

Architects Eric Colbert and Associates shared renderings of the latest design for their proposed apartment building at 5333 Connecticut Avenue. Few renderings of the project have been available until now, so it's been difficult to understand how it will look.


Rendering of 5333 Connecticut's front entrance. All images from Eric Colbert and Associates.

The design depicted in the renderings is substantially the same as the one presented at an ANC3G meeting in August, when commissioners voted for the Memorandum of Understanding with developer Cafritz.

Colbert applies planes of glass and white frames to a glass block in manner similar to the neomodernist apartment buildings of Richard Meier. Two of those buildings are regarded as kicking off the trend for glass-enclosed apartment buildings in New York.


5333 Connecticut from Kanawha Street.

The sides of the building that face single family homes have significantly fewer windows, addressing the light pollution concerns the neighbors are reasonably worried about. Having such an dramatic transition from one side to another puts a lot of pressure on the corner, architecturally. Colbert negotiates this shift with a line of windows on the edge of the Kanawha Street wing, shown above. Whether this shift succeeds will depend on how transparent the glass appears at a given time of day.

The change of transparency is driven by the sun, whose heat and light are serious concerns in a glazed building. The renderings show similar treatments on both the north and south elevations of the building. That much glass on the southern exposure will lead to an excess in heat in light, but on the northern side, the glass might also abate the worries about shadows by reflecting light down to the street.


5333 Connecticut from Connecticut and Military.

To me, the building is the most successful at the edges of the projections from the sides of the building. There, the relationship between interior walls and the opaque frame around the edge makes it feel like volumes have slid out from the building. This could have been a simplistic, cheesy move, but Colbert's office wove translucent balcony railings into the white frame. The result is a sensitive corner, a feature often absent in glass-heavy modern architecture.

Unfortunately, this sensitivity is absent where the building touches the ground. Considering that the ground has been so controversial, the design would be better if the walls changed as they met the landscape designed by Trini Rodriguez. Whether becoming more solid, showing the weight of the building, or simply transitioning from vertical to horizontal, this relationship is key to producing a building that feels appropriate for its site.


5333 Connecticut from Connecticut and Kanawha.

Developer Cafritz has stated their desire to have a building that is contemporary and of its time, and meant "glass." However, glass is only "modern" when it calls attention to relationships of inside and outside, ground and sky, and between the people who look through it as neighbors. Like any materials, how a window shapes our environment is more important than the sheer technological thrill of transparency.

Neil Flanagan grew up in Ward 3 before graduating from the Yale School of Architecture. He is pursuing an architecture license. He writes on architecture and Russia at цarьchitect

Comments

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Thank you for sharing these. They are a dramatic improvement both in form and neighborhood context (though that is a very subjective statement). I do agree with the critical view of the base of the structure and the overall relationship of the building to the street. These areas could probably use more study.

by Andrew on Oct 18, 2013 10:56 am • linkreport

Great analysis.

I am impressed that there is no traffic at all on the streets, and that the pedestrians are uniformly in the same demographic as the current residents, albeit younger. Thank goodness those people aren't the dreaded "strangers" that Graham from the 5333CT group opposing this building abhors.

by fongfong on Oct 18, 2013 11:18 am • linkreport

Thanks for posting these drawings - an improvement but I'm still having a hard time warming up to this design.

IMHO there is a lot of mediocre architecture along Upper Connecticut and this building will stand out but I think we'll have to wait until it is built to determine if that is a good or bad thing.

Is it true that there will be no utility lines around this building?

Also Connecticut Avenue is quite busy through here so I'm not sure these drawings with more pedestrians and bikes than cars capture what the frontage of the building will feel like but more importantly I really hope DDOT stands firm and rejects the driveway on Connecticut Avenue and the curb cuts that go with it.

by TomQ on Oct 18, 2013 11:26 am • linkreport

Wow, a glass box. I haven't seen one of those before.

by m2fc on Oct 18, 2013 11:42 am • linkreport

I think it's a definate improvement and I like your analysis of the design. I still don't think it's the right language for this area and I'm surprised to hear the developer say glass buildings are "of it's time" since that's a platitude most often heard from architects trained to think that way.

I wonder if it's less expensive to do a glass curtain wall than a brick building with detailing? The thing about the whole "transparency" question are two fold. Most times of the day, light reflections will make this building look absolutly opaque. Secondly, on those overcast days where it might be possible to "look through" as the renderings always imply, they omit the fact that actual people will be living here. They tend to have window treatments for those sunny days, especially in the am when cloths are optional.

I will say this for Colbert, he seems to be stepping up his game in the neo-modern department. This looks like it could have been done by the local masters of that style, Shalome Baranes.

by Thayer-D on Oct 18, 2013 11:42 am • linkreport

@TomQ

Connecticut Ave has underground lines to its extent. I believe that is a vestige of its Streetcar roots.

by Andrew on Oct 18, 2013 11:49 am • linkreport

The ground floor facade does change on the Connecticut and Military sides. But it has the appearance of a utility basement level, and the slightly recessed plane creates an overhang that accentuates the semi-basement effect.

Those who live on the ground floor and floor above it on Kanawha Street are going to be on display like gerbils in a terrarium. Many residents of glass-walled apartments install curtains, blinds, or mirrored film to protect their privacy, which more or less wipes out the architect's intention of transparency.

by Laurence Aurbach on Oct 18, 2013 12:11 pm • linkreport

The rendering looks just like the boxes going up at City Center DC, NoMa and nearly everywhere else in DC. Are DC developers all using the same architect?

by ceefer66 on Oct 18, 2013 1:05 pm • linkreport

"Are DC developers all using the same architect?"

yes.

by charlie on Oct 18, 2013 1:11 pm • linkreport

They should move this design to the Dulles Toll Road, where it belongs. It looks like office generica, doesn't fit in with the context of Connecticut Avenue in that neighborhood. Did Cafritz buy the plans off the web?!

by Molly on Oct 18, 2013 6:27 pm • linkreport

"I am impressed that there is no traffic at all on the streets."

That's because the residents will all be fit, walk, bike share, take transit and use Zipcar if they have to drive.

by Jasper2 on Oct 18, 2013 6:31 pm • linkreport

@Molly

The area is not a historic district with a design review mandate. The people complaining about this development also opposed that proposal a few years ago.

While it may not be the best architectural fit in context, there is nothing the residents or city can do to address the concern. The residents in question already ensured that so they only have themselves to blame.

by Lukas on Oct 19, 2013 6:44 am • linkreport

Nice renderings but it will NEVER look like that! The all window sun box energy wasting and unusable buildings these renderers create absent of any architectural skill are energy hogs. As soon as pets and people flood in to the building they will cover all the windows with shades and their junk and that will be it. Connecticut Avenue will have a 24/7 view of their junk or their dirty shades and dirty glass.

by AndrewJ on Oct 19, 2013 8:17 am • linkreport

It's interesting that historic preservation is sometimes criticized by "smart growthers" as having as its goal more rigorous design review and other restrictions rather than the preservation of truly historic properties. Yet when Chevy Chase wants to weigh in on the design of what even some proponents concede is not right for the local context, the response is, "too bad, you should have put in an historic district."

by Bob on Oct 19, 2013 12:46 pm • linkreport

I don't live near the place so I don't really care if they build this or not. BUT, AndrewJ is correct. Go to Miami. Building after building windows with crap piled high in front of them. What you see when you look into an occupied glass building is rarely attractive. It's wires behind desks, it's clothing piles. When they are tired of the constant brightness residents tape things on the window.

The new residents will not care as they do not have to look at the building.

I say this about my place all the time. I live in an historic neighborhood. My building is perhaps one of the ugliest buildings in the entire area BUT I LOVE my apartment and well, as I say, I spend a lot more time in my apartment than than I do looking at it from outside. They will not care because they do not have to look at it all day,

by Mike on Oct 19, 2013 2:17 pm • linkreport

@Bob

Not sure of the incongruity. The fact it, people are complaining about the design of a matter-of-right project. Historic preservation would have provided the residents and city an opportunity for design review. The same residents rejecting this proposal also rejected the one legal opportunity that would have afforded the opportunity.

Do you have an alternative design review proposal that would have been effective in this case?

Generally, a major part of Smart Growth is the level of engagement a building or development plan has to the street, the amount of "placemaking" and the ability for the built environment has on community building.

Many of our historic areas enjoy these assets already and provide good case study for how new development to refer to good precedent for design and engagement.

Sure, sometimes the decisions of the District Historic Preservation community seem far reaching or out of context, but for the most part, I think many would consider it a fair trade-off.

by Lukas on Oct 20, 2013 12:05 am • linkreport

Great points Lukas.

"Generally, a major part of Smart Growth is... the amount of "placemaking"...

Many of our historic areas enjoy these assets already and provide good case study for how new development to refer to good precedent for design and engagement.

Then why don't architects study these "assets" for the "placemaking" qualities they embody? Solve that riddle and you might make historic preservation obsolete.

by Thayer-D on Oct 20, 2013 6:59 am • linkreport

If all those windows are solar collectors generating the energy to cool those apartments, then this building isn't the energy-sucking environmental nightmare it appears to be.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Oct 20, 2013 10:27 am • linkreport

This is not inspiring - I think its legions of twins live downtown on K and H street in the form of new office buildings. This building does little to connect with the natural environment, reflect the mix of architecture in the surrounding neighborhood, nor promote contemporary residential architecture.
It doesn't need to be a rehash of a Federal Style, Colonial or Art Deco - but this is just bleh!

by andy2 on Oct 21, 2013 9:20 am • linkreport

It's a matter of taste. I happen to think it's quite attractive. I would find a design that aped the other buildings around it rather sad, a conscious decision to reject change, for rejecting change's sake.

by Crickey7 on Oct 21, 2013 12:08 pm • linkreport

Or change for change's sake. The idea behind working within a context (worth working within) is to create something greater than the sum of it's parts. There's nothing sad about the classical heritage of Rome where architects picked up and worked within the language of the city. Infact, it's rather encouraging to think one can contribute without hogging the limelight. But I will agree that it's a matter of taste.

by Thayer-D on Oct 21, 2013 1:15 pm • linkreport

Well, Thayer, of course I agree with you. The Italian Modernists, for all of their flaws, were able to integrate beautiful modernist buildings into very difficult contexts rich in history. They didn't exactly blend in, but they feel of a place as much as of a time.

by Neil Flanagan on Oct 21, 2013 2:56 pm • linkreport

Agreed Neil. A hard nut to crack, but worth trying.

by Thayer-D on Oct 22, 2013 8:33 am • linkreport

I agree as a general matter, but as to the majority of the apartment buildings on Connecticut Ave. today, I find them uninspired. It's part of the overall feeling on Connecticut that the street has long traded vitality for stability. It's downright dull now. Sometimes, change for change's sake is a good thing.

by Crickey7 on Oct 22, 2013 9:30 am • linkreport

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