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Building of the Week: Downtown's Woodward & Lothrop building

Located 11th Street NW between G and F Streets, DC's Woodward and Lothrop building is iconic: it appears in books and as a case study for developers, and we've even featured it ourselves (twice!). But while most of the attention focuses on the famous department store that lived in it, the building itself tells the story of how fast fashion eclipsed department store retail in the United States.


The Woodward & Lothrop building, sometime in the 1910s. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Woodward and Lothrop was founded in Washington in 1880 and settled into its flagship location on the 1000 block of F and G Streets NW in 1886. Architect James G. Hill designed the company's eclectic five-story headquarters, and real estate investor Calderon Carlisle funded the project.

The building was no skyscraper, but it shared the language of taller buildings: arcade windows and expansive showrooms covered in neoclassical ornament. The rich mix of materials included mahogany and French glass.

Thanks to continued success, owners Samuel Woodward and Alvin Lorthrop purchased most of the block by 1897. New acquisitions were renovated or expanded, notably a large addition in 1902 on G Street.


A picture from an advertisement in the 1913 edition of Rand McNally's Pictorial Guide to Washington. Photo from Streets of Washington.

Chicago architect Henry Ives Cobb was hired to unify and modernize the building. The result was eight stories and 400,000 square feet of retail space adorned with cast iron and leaded glass.

Cobb's design spoke to his Chicago roots. The building's two commercial levels featured elaborate ornamentation and American-made cast iron piers. The third floor was narrower and hid its steel frame under rustication. The subsequent four stories wear a Beaux-Arts uniform and end in a heavy cornice. This segmentation resembles that of Chicago skyscrapers.

For F Street, Woodward and Lothrop hired Frederick B. Pyle to build a terra cotta segment of the building. While designed to appear as a distinct structure, it was always integrated into the larger building.


Here, you can see the terra cotta part of the building, which runs along 10th Street. Photo from Douglas Development.

By 1927 the building took on its present appearance after the original Carlisle Building had been destroyed. Woodies, as it was affectionately known, operated here until 1994 with only modest changes.


The Woodies building after 1926, viewed from 11th and F Streets, NW. Image from Streets of Washington.

By the end of the 20th century, the entire chain was bankrupt. The Washington location was abandoned, and its building auctioned to the Washington Opera. The Opera's plans to convert the landmarked space into a theater failed, and five years later it was acquired by developer Douglas Jemal.

The company renovated the space in 2002, putting offices on most floors and returning the ground level to retail space. Now a jaunt around the block allows you to shop at Zara, H&M, and Forever 21.


Image from Douglas Development.

Woodies led the way for department stores, both the rise and fall

These new tenants are no modern Woodies—because the department store as a business model is long in decline. In Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, author Elizabeth Cline delves into how department stores were revolutionary when they arrived at the turn of the 20th century, but by the end of the century, that revolution turned against them.


The Woodward & Lothrop floor at Christmas time, sometime in the 1960s. Photo by StreetsofWashington on Flickr.

In 1900, textile, patterns, and readymade home and clothing items under one roof gave upper class women a safe, socially acceptable escape from the household. These items' relative affordability meant a person didn't have to make all their own clothing anymore. By the post-war era, American pockets bulged, ready-to-wear was king, and competition was fierce in the industry. Mail order catalogs allowed you to peruse your regional chain's offerings, or you could drive to Montgomery Ward, Belk, or Burdines for mid-market sales.

But like its contemporary the land line, the department store model was due for change. Cline notes that by the 1970s malls and discount retailers mushroomed across America. These were descended upon by price conscious Americans—with an evaporating middle class, who would shop for mid-priced clothing? At the dawn of the 21st century, shopping preferences were clear: Forever 21 or the designer from whom the chain borrowed inspiration.

In the era of fast fashion—piles of stylish clothing go from sketch to store in a matter of weeks, selling for small sums—the moderate department store was too slow and expensive. Department stores tried to meet the new expectations, hastening their own demise with untenable discounts and a dwindling clientele.

Woodies was a casualty of this changing economy. Many of its stores were acquired by Macy's and Bloomingdales, chains that expanded nationally and weathered the shift partly by focusing on higher end customers. Woodies fell victim of its refusal to evolve—or as critics of fast fashion's labor and environmental effects argue, devolve.

Yet the signature building remains intact. The space itself epitomizes the changing retail tides of history. The eclectic buildings first brought together by Woodies have been recycled, reorganized, and parceled out to individual owners again. The structure remains to tell the tale.

Links


Worldwide links: France

Today, we mourn for France, which was again the target of a horrific terrorist attack.


Photo by Kristoffer Trolle on Flickr.

Tragedy in France: A man killed over 80 people and injured at least 200 more when he drove a truck through a crowds celebrating Bastille Day in France's southern city of Nice. The attack on the pedestrian-filled promenade was the third major terrorist attack in France since January 2015.

Tramways of Paris: Light rail and streetcar lines continue to go up around the country, and while some have been successful others suffer from low ridership and poor design. Across the Atlantic, however, Paris built a system of "trams" that has a ridership in excess of 900,000. The Paris tram's successful integration with the city's existing network, along with its dedicated right of way, are things we should learn from. (TransitCenter)

Catch them all: The Pokemon Go phenomenon has urban thinkers excited about a new possibility for getting people out of the house and exploring their neighborhoods. People playing the game have been roaming the streets and complaining of tired legs while going places they normally might not in order to capture Pokemon for their collections. (Curbed)

Pre-fabulous: A new method for building prefabricated housing in England has cut construction time from eight weeks to three. Using timber construction, architects build self-supporting boxes and ship them to the site. At around £100,000, these homes could be a new source of affordable housing. (Wired UK)

Exhibits, but no musuem: Stadiums and museums cost a lot of money to build and keep running. But maybe the best place for what happens in those buildings, like concerts and exhibits, is festivals. While buildings require up keep and become a liability, festivals can use public spaces and temporary structures to fill their needs. It's an idea to ponder for places that don't have much budget to waste. (Des Moines Register)

Old burbs: As the generation known as the Baby Boomers ages, the structure of the suburbs will become more challenging: as people age, driving cars and climbing stairs will become more strenuous on both physical and mental health. But there are ways for people downsizing to prepare, and it's possible for them to move into more walkable neighborhoods. (The Herald)

Brew tube: To bring down the number of beer-filled tanker trucks driving through historic Bruges, Belgium, a local brewery decided to build a two-mile beer pipeline to its bottling plant on the outskirts of town. The pipeline allowed jobs to stay in the UNESCO historic district while upholding not just architectural heritage, but also continuing the tradition of brewing beer. (Guardian Cities)

Quote of the Week

"During multiple sessions, attendees have expressed concerns that the streetcar will speed up gentrification and displace long-time residents. Thus, the plan, these opponents say, should be discarded in the name of affordability... Over the years, studies have shown that transit access will be a factor in increased rents and gentrification, but transit access isn't the only factor. It is, then, possible and necessary to implement zoning and housing policies that can tamp down on the upward pressures transit access exerts on the affordability of a neighborhood and stave off displacement."

Ben Kabak of New York City transit blog Second Avenue Sagas on the link between transit and gentrification.

Development


This map shows what all of DC's houses are made of

Did you know the vast majority of DC's houses are made of brick? That might not surprise you if you've walked around the city much, but this map confirms it, and shows how common other types of building materials are.


You can click this map for a larger, interactive map of all the houses in DC. Map by Kate Rabinowitz via DMPED.

Kate Rabinowitz of DataLensDC created the interactive map, which shows what materials make up the facades on DC's houses, based on data from the city.

DC has been around for a while, so it makes sense that a lot of our buildings are made of old-school materials like brick. While new construction generally uses cheaper materials, brick was the material of choice for decades, especially in residential areas closer to the core of the city. For a long time, it was the cheapest, most fireproof construction material available, which was especially important in DC at one point.

Looking throughout the entirety of DC, some areas in the northeast and southeast quadrants have a lot of aluminum and vinyl, which are characteristic of newer construction. There are also a fair number of homes in the northwest quadrant that use wood or stucco. But for the most part, we live in a brick city.

Do you notice anything else in the map? Can you offer any more insight as to why we've used the materials we have?

Links


National links: How the highways happened

The US highway system is around partly because of a road trip Dwight Eisenhower took right after WWI, and if our leaders don't invest in our transit infrastructure, we'll have to sit back and hope for the best until they change their minds. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Ken Lund on Flickr.

Interstate prelude: On July 7, 1919, Dwight Eisenhower struck out on a road trip across the country. His military convoy, the first to cross the US by car, was partly a WWI celebration and partly an effort to gather info on the state of American roads at the time. It averaged 52 miles per day. This road trip and a view of the German autobahns would plant the seeds of the future US Interstate Highway System (History)

Alphabet soup: Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet (which is basically Google), has offered a suite of tools to Columbus Ohio, the winner of a contest for city design. It includes a program called "Flow," which would help the city modernize its parking system and coordinate ride sharing for low income residents. Though some worry the program will take away from standard transit services. (Guardian Cities)

Surviving the storm: Transit in the United States is often set back by ideological rigidity and under-investment. Laws that keep tax money from going toward infrastructure, for example, make it impossible to get the support needed to repair and expand transit, and they'll stay in place unless leaders change them. The real question is whether transit can survive until those changes happen. (The Hill)

Try something new!: The developers behind a Harris Teeter in Carrboro, North Carolina, want to build something familiar: a grocery store in a tired strip mall. The design has remained very suburban and auto-oriented despite the city's multiple efforts to make it more urban and increase its potential tax base. It's an example of what happens when bean counters at the home office believe what they've always done (strip malls) is the only way to make money. (City Beautiful 21)

No Mickey Mouse ride: Disney has been pushing for a streetcar line from a commuter rail station in Anaheim to the theme park, and local officials were going along with the plan until now. The streetcar has been cancelled by the Orange Country Transit Authority board, with opponents citing low demand for the existing commuter rail and a high speed rail station that's coming in the future as reasons. (Voice of the OC)

Geek city:This week bay area tech incubator Y Combinator has put out a request for applications for its city research endeavor. The agency hopes that in the future, it might be able to find out the best way to build a city from scratch in a way that's better than what exists now. Good luck with that.(Treehugger)

Quote of the Week

"Drive-ins shifted the film industry's focus to the teenage demographic, a tactic that still informs studio decisions in 2016. And drive-ins unwittingly became both cause and casualty of urban sprawl."

- Urban planning expert Ryan Baker on the heyday of the drive in theater.

Architecture


Building of the Week: Terminal B/C at National airport

Ronald Reagan Washington National airport turned 75 years old this month, having served the region since president Franklin Delano Roosevelt welcomed the first American Airlines DC-3 in 1941. Today, terminal B/C, which opened in 1997, is the focal point of the airport and an instantly recognizable part of the region's architectural heritage.


Terminal B/C at National airport. Photo by ep_jhu on Flickr.

The most striking elements of terminal B/C, which was designed by Cesar Pelli, are its domes. Considered "Jeffersonian" in their design, each of the 54 in the terminal building is a modular, 45-foot square bay made of steel with a glass oculus at their center, according to National Airport Terminal, Pelli's book on the project.


Each Jeffersonian dome in terminal B/C is 45 feet square with a glass oculus at its center. Photo by Brian Allen.

The domes serve as a connection between the terminal and the "civic architecture of Washington DC," which is purposely visible through the floor-to-ceiling glass wall that faces the aircraft ramp and the District, says Pelli.


Travellers can see the US capitol, other monuments and the Potomac River through terminal B/C's floor-to-ceiling glass wall. Photo by the author.

Pelli placed all of the terminal's functional elements, like ticket counters, baggage belts and restrooms, on the landside of the building to allow for the glass wall.

The domes also feature in each of terminal B/C's three piers, with nine atop the atriums at the end of each concourse.

"[The terminal] has a kind of industrialized Gothic quality inside," wrote architecture critic Paul Goldberger in the book. "The architect has managed to combine the lightness of late Gothic architecture with the tensile quality of twentieth-century modernism."

He notes that the design benefitted from the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority's (MWAA) desire for a terminal that had sufficient "aesthetic stature" to serve as a gateway to the US capital.

A long-needed upgrade

Terminal B/C was a long-overdue solution to the problem that was National airport. By the 1980s, the airport's three terminals—the main terminal (terminal A today), north terminal and commuter terminal (see a map here)—were outdated and overcrowded.

"It is a major horror story of modern planning," James Murphy, then head of airport policy for the then Air Transport Association and a former manager of National airport, told The Washington Post in June 1986. "You can't overstate the problems. It has the most severe facility constraints per square foot of any airport I have ever seen."

Work on a new master plan officially began in 1982, MWAA documents show. However, it was not until the formation of the airport authority in 1987 that the project moved into high gear.

MWAA approved a master plan that included terminal B/C in March 1988, less than a year after its formation. The first project, the demolition of hangar one and construction of a new parking garage, began that July.

A key consideration for the project was access from the Metro. When the station opened in 1977, it was only somewhat convenient for passengers flying out of the commuter or north terminals and a long walk through parking lots to the main terminal, which handled the bulk of airport traffic. Terminal B/C was sited where it is and designed to eliminate this inconvenience and make it easy for travellers to access the building from the rail system.

In 1989, Pelli was hired to design the new terminal that at the time was expected to cost about $200 million and open in 1994.

The same year, an interim terminal opened on the north side of National to accommodate passengers displaced by the demolition of the commuter terminal and old north terminal during construction.


A diagram of National airport with the interim terminal from the early 1990s. Photo by the author.

The terminal project encountered a setback in 1990. As it was laid out, the new building would obstruct the view of the threshold of one of National airport's three runways from the old control tower atop the main terminal. The issue was rectified by the addition of a new tower to terminal B/C.

Pelli unveiled four potential designs for the terminal in early 1992. Later that year, MWAA selected the one dubbed "Jeffersonian Domes" but was forced to scale down the plans due to airline and congressional concerns about rapidly rising costs that had nearly doubled to $400 million by that time.


The four proposed designs for terminal B/C at National airport, the ultimate Jeffersonian dome design is in the bottom right. Image from National Airport Terminal by Cesar Pelli.

Construction began on terminal B/C in November 1993 and took nearly four years, with the facility opening on July 27, 1997—three years late and about $250 million more than originally expected.


A US Airways map of the new north terminal, terminal B/C today, from 1997. Photo by the author.

Adapting for more passengers

National airport again faces congestion issues. Passenger traffic increased by nearly six million to 23 million from 2009 to 2015, placing strain on facilities that were designed to handle roughly 17 to 18 million people annually.

MWAA plans to build a new commuter concourse on the north side of the airport replacing gate 35X, which is the bain of many passengers flying on small regional aircraft. The concourse will replace 14 remote aircraft parking positions with the same number of gates with jetways.


Outline of the planned commuter concourse at National airport. Photo by MWAA.

The concourse has been planned since at least 1998, when the authority approved a regional concourse on the same site for then US Airways. The project was cancelled later the same year as the airline faced financial difficulties.

MWAA also plans to move national hall—the hall with Pelli's floor-to-ceiling glass wall overlooking the tarmac and capital—in terminal B/C behind security in order to reduce chokepoints at the entrance to each pier and ease passenger connections between the concourses.

The new concourse and reconfiguration of national hall will be the first major changes to Pelli's iconic terminal B/C.

Architecture


Building of the Week: Calvary Baptist Church

The name Adolf Cluss may not ring a bell for you, but you probably know his work: he designed Eastern Market and Smithsonian's Art and Industries Building. One of his lesser-known red brick creations, typical of late 19th century architecture in the region, is the Calvary Baptist Church in Chinatown.


The Calvary Baptist Church. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The red pressed brick church rises above the corner of 8th Street and H Street in northwest. A collaboration between Cluss and Joseph Wildrich von Kammerhueber, it was completed in 1866.

The church is best known for its iron spire. Likely inspired by the Freiburg Cathedral in Germany, the open design gives the elaborate metalwork a graphic quality. Cluss drew attention to the tower by giving the church asymmetrical massing.


The church with its iconic spire. Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

However, the interior of the church differs from what Cluss and Kammerhueber originally designed. A fire during a blizzard in 1867 destroyed the interior in 1867, and some people say that happened because Cluss designed a faulty heating system.

After the fire, alterations to the interior during reconstruction included balconies on he north and south sides of the sanctuary, and a new organ. These additions obstruct parts of the stained glass.


The interior of the Calvary Baptist Church with the balconies blocking the original windows. Image by StreetsofWashington on Flickr.

The church lacked its iconic spire for much of the 20th century. Removed after a lightning strike in 1914, it was only reconstructed along with the belfry in 2005.


The Calvary Baptist Church without its spire in the 1940s. Photo by StreetsofWashington on Flickr.

Progressive history

The Calvary Baptist Church and its two connected sites are protected historic buildings, owing to the church's progressive mission and contributions to the downtown DC historic district. The Baptists supported the Union during the Civil War with a mission that was—and remains—welcoming to all races and ethnicities.

This progressive policy sets the church apart from the numerous other congregations that Cluss built churches for in the Washington region from 1884 to 1886. Such forward thinking mirrored Cluss's fearless architectural ideals.

Today, the Calvary Baptist Church continues to fulfill its mission by offering bilingual services in Spanish, including marriage equality activists in its congregation, and ordaining what may have the first transgender woman to the gospel ministry.

The structure is also considered a contributing building to the Downtown Historic District, which is considered the "heart of the old downtown, with an eclectic mixture of commercial, institutional, and residential buildings…" Such a description could easily be applied to the work of Cluss himself.

An architect and engineer, Cluss designed schools, government buildings, homes, museums, and churches around Washington DC during the last decades of the 19th century. He also oversaw major civic improvements, like pacing streets, construction of sewers and planting street trees, as city engineer to the capital.

Architecture


Pike + Rose is an experiment in modern ornament

The Pike + Rose development on Rockville Pike is a surprisingly experimental collection of buildings. It's contemporary in style, but also filled with architectural ornament. The result upends the common architectural conceit that ornament cannot be "of our time."


All photos by the author.

Pike + Rose is one of the region's most ambitious attempts to retrofit an aging suburban place to become more urban. It gets far more headlines for its planning than for its architecture.

But although Pike + Rose isn't flashy enough to find itself on the cover of Architect Magazine, it's fascinating and instructive for what it tells us about how architecture can interact with urbanism.

Ornament doesn't have to be historic-looking

In the world of architecture criticism, ornament is taboo. Buildings should be "of their time;" they must not rely on historic styles to look good. Since so much ornament is either historic or kitschy faux historic, the world of architecture has turned its nose up at it for decades.

But many laypeople prefer buildings with little flourishes, because, well, little flourishes are pretty and people like pretty things. Those flourishes are particularly important on urban buildings, where people walking along a sidewalk need human-scale things to look at.

Pike + Rose attempts to rectify that mismatch by providing the sort of small-scale ornamental flourishes that pedestrians crave, but using unabashedly contemporary styles and materials.

Mixed but instructive results

No doubt about it, Pike + Rose is an experiment with mixed results. Its designers tried a lot of things, and failed as often as they succeeded. But failure teaches as much as success, and future architects can learn much from what happened here.

The most successful attempts are those that fully embrace their modern manufacturing, using carefully-placed materials to create repeating abstract patterns of factory-produced detail. These are unmistakably both contemporary and ornamental, and look great.

The same effect thrives on fences and other urban accoutrements.

Less successful are the more literal decorations. These are individually beautiful, but on buildings they're awkward and kitschy.

Least successful of all are the murals, particularly this cartoonish fake advertisement for a baking machinery factory that never existed:

Other murals are more honest about what they are, and thus aren't so bad.

It's easy for architects to retreat to glass boxes and pretend they're bold, and it's easy for laypeople to point at old buildings and say "do that," but neither is a satisfying way to build modern cities.

The architects of Pike + Rose, WDG, deserve praise for pushing an envelope that needed to be pushed. Contemporary ornament can work, but it's going to take talented designers willing to try controversial things to build on and refine these early results.

I hope this continues. Our cities will be more beautiful and more livable for it, even if it takes a while to figure it out.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Public Spaces


You know the memorials DC has today. How should they be different in the future?

Washington remembers national events through big, permanent structures. Is that the only way to do it? A competition is asking designers to come up with alternatives that are less expensive, more interactive, and more flexible.


American Wild would bring National Parks into metro with video and audio projections. Image from NCPC.

TheMemorials for the Future competition asks designers to rethink commemmoration. Sponsored by the National Park Service, the National Capital Planning Commission, and an architecture nonprofit called the Van Alen Institute, they will announce four finalists tonight, from a pool of 30 semifinalists.


Neighborhood Memorials repurposes existing infrastructure.

The sponsors are looking ways out of a big problem: too many people want to leave a permanent mark on the National Mall. Unfortunately, the Mall has run out of space. Worse, designs have gotten bigger over time.

Since it's hard for Congress to say no, the competition is a way to show future memorial sponsors alternatives. Maybe a commission will consider a digital memorial instead of wedging bronze into a grass triangle. Perhaps people would rather remember their cause if it brought trees to a neglected neighborhood instead of another statue kids can't play on.


Re-frame, Re-cast, Re-tell: Freedom Stories along the Anacostia is a return to memorial trees, in underserved neighborhoods. Image from NCPC.

Judges already picked picked 30 semifinalsts, which are online. Each one consists of a single image and a paragraph that proposes a novel way to commemorate an overlooked issue.

The ideas are little out there. And most descriptions come in overcomplicated verbiage. That's OK. This kind of competition is all about coming up with novel ideas in a risk-free, low cost environment, winnowing them down, and refining them. That will start Tonight when jury of planners, architects, and administrators announces five finalists.

Spending a few thousand to explore some ideas ahead of time is a great way to not spend many millions on something suboptimal later. Think of it as design research.

Politicians have become obsessed with size.

Why change at all? Washington is known around the world for large memorials that use space and sculpture to create an emotional response.

This image is only 100 years old. Before the McMillan Commission, the National Mall was a winding garden like New York's Central Park, littered with illustrative monuments, like statues and memorial trees. The McMillan Commission's philosophy changed to a much more immersive format.


Photo by Damon Green on Flickr.

Generally, before then Washington's memorials were like the 1876 Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln Park: a statue with a clear message standing in a public square. Compare that to the 1921 Lincoln Memorial. It's a building at the end of a two-mile long axis. Visitors must climb steep stairs to enter into a spare, dimly-lit room, and reflect upon an ambiguous psychological portrait of the president.


Architect Henry Bacon used technology unavailable in 1876, like electric light to increase the dramatic effect. Photo by Rizwan Sheikh on Flickr.

The new way of commemorating worked. So, memorials started taking over more space. The problems was compounded as modern tastes started asking for nuanced narratives and educational elements. The embodiment of this trend is probably the FDR Memorial completed in 1997. Presenting a panoramic take of Roosevelt's presidency, it takes criticism for being scattershot fantasy and not nearly inclusive enough. All that over an enormous 7.5 acre site with expensive foundation work.

What else could we try?

Many of the design pitches reflect these trends away from a single focus and an unchanging narrative.


An installation of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Image from NIH.

The most radical of the sketches crowdsource their content and last for only a short period of time. These follow in the footsteps of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which assembled thousands of grave-sized fabric quilts, hand made by a deceased person's loved one into a massive display. Aggregated, the units of personal sentimentality showed it to be a public crisis.


Homes for the Homeless, installed in Adams Morgan. Image from NCPC.

Home for the Homeless would mimic how social media's digital records in physical form around the city by giving physical spaces to tell homeless stories. MonYouMent lets people mark out their own important sites.


MonYOUment is a kit to allow anyone to make a small monument. Image from NCPC.

Others fall into what the art world calls "indexical," meaning that it's an abstract but physical connection to some event, rather than a work that's designed to represent something and therefore laden with its creators biases, like Abraham Lincoln in front of a grateful freed slave.


Content of Confinement transports a literal piece of Topaz Internment Camp to the Tidal Basin. Image from NCPC.

That's what you see in re-doing the topic of the existing granite and bronze Memorial to Japanese-American Patriotism in World War II with a literal piece of the ground in an internment camp amid the Japanese-donated Cherry Blossom trees on the Tidal Basin.


Visitors would leave physical check marks in A Monument to Democracy. Image from NCPC.

The Memorial to Democracy asks visitors to assemble abstract markers into shapes, each symbolizing a person.


Climate Chronograph would disappear as Hains Point does. Image from NCPC.

Or, there's Climate Chronograph on Hains Point, which disappears under rising waters to mark out melting ice caps.


Virtual Memorial would annotate existing monuments and historic sites. Image from NCPC.

Multiple ideas rely on smartphones to remember people. Projections onto public surfaces are one way, more introverted proposals are augmented reality and audioguide options that anyone could access to interpret the world around them.


Pop-up Portal would use digital media to share experiences and current events. Image from NCPC.

More ambitious are the ones that try to use those digital programs as mediums in public. There's something powerful about showing novel content—provided it's not hijacked into Memorial McMemorialface, but what's the public benefit of content that can be accessed on a phone in bed at home?


Cultur-Altar brings a ritual space to Eastern Market. Image from NCPC

The one that I really do like is the Cultur-Altar. It's built around a ritual, rather than an object. Artifacts of memory are brought to Eastern Market during commemoration and burned afterward. The idea of letting go of artifacts while keeping a memory alive is more about building social ties than making a mark.

After all, Washington is a living city and the mall has been its most evocative when the buildings fade into backdrops, whether for rallies or picnics.

Links


National links: Our cities are growing

The population in nearly all of the US' big cities is increasing, Seattle's mayor wants to reward streets that aren't just for cars, and a new kind of wood could change building design. Check out what's happening around the country in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by theirmind on Flickr.

Growing cities: New US Census numbers show cities continuing to grow, with 19 of the top 20 cities gaining population over the last year. Only Chicago showed a decrease. Smaller cities like Austin saw rapid growth, while Detroit continues to decline. (USA Today)

Seattle and the "war on cars": Seattle's mayor wants to rank streets based on how many single-occupant vehicles use them, and make development decisions based on the rankings. A Seattle Times opinion writer says there's no denying that the city is engaged in a war on cars, but a former mayor says designing places just for cars leads to an inability to walk places, struggling retail and housing, and more crime and blight. (Seattle Times, Crosscut)

Invisible wood: Scientists have created a clear wood that's stronger than normal. It could one day be used in place of plastic building materials or glass for windows, as it should help lower both heating costs and fuel consumption. (CNN)

Transit progress in LA: A new stretch of track, called the Expo Line, started running between Santa Monica and downtown Los Angeles last week. This isn't just a new line for LA's rail network (though the 7 new light rail stations are nice). It's an approach to reconnecting the region that's built on the original transit system. (Los Angeles Times)

Revamping transit advocacy: The American Public Transportation Association, which advocates for transit all over the US, has come under fire lately; it even lost by far its largest member, New York's MTA. One way the organization can move forward: focus less on supporting transit at all costs, and more on transit that riders want to use. (TransitCenter)

In simple terms: Urban sewer systems and watersheds are complex, so the Center for Urban Pedagogy (n. the method and practice of teaching) created a diorama to explain them. The teaching tool won a national design award from the Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt Museum, and is just the latest project from an organization that helps people, especially those who may not be able to read or speak English, understand the world around them. (Smithsonian Magazine)

Quote of the Week

"When I was 13, I built a very intricate Lego city that suffered a huge tragedy when it was accidentally hit with a vacuum cleaner. As I rebuilt the buildings I created memorials with plaques that I printed out on my dot matrix printer commemorating The Great Vacuum Incident of 1988. Legos didn't make me love architecture, but they gave my love of architecture a place to develop." - Renowned architect Mark Kushner discussing how adult architects play with Legos. (Fast Company Design)

Architecture


Building of the Week: Smithsonian American Art Museum and Kogod Courtyard

The exterior of the Smithsonian American Art Museum embodies cornerstones of DC architecture: Greek Revival, historic, and massive. Cynics might even call it forgettable and ubiquitous. The building's history, along with a new interior courtyard, defy those labels, helping it live up to Walt Whitman's claim that this is the "noblest of Washington buildings."


Smithsonian American Art Museum + Kogod Courtyard. Photo by Foster and Partners.

The museum building, which also houses the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, occupies a double city block from 7th Street to 9th Street between F Street to G Street NW, across from the Verizon Center.

Originally the home of the US Patent Office, the building was conceived as a celebration of American innovation represented by the patent process. A slew of famous architects, including Washington Monument designer Robert Mills and Thomas U. Walter, who worked on the US Capitol building, worked on it during construction, which occurred in phases from 1836 to 1868.


A front elevation of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. Image by the Smithsonian.

The building was not restricted to just patents. It housed Department of the Interior bureaus, a Civil War military hospital and barracks, and President Lincoln's 1865 inaugural ball at different times. The Civil Service Commission set-up shop in the building after the Patent Office departed in 1932.

In the 1950s, the Civil Service Commission building was threatened with demolition, as it occupied a prime downtown site in the booming District. However, the burgeoning historic preservation movement in the city successfully appealed to President Dwight Eisenhower to save it.

The building became a National Historic Landmark in 1965, highlighting its cultural significance. Only a small fraction of historically significant buildings get this designation, and itand reinforces the oft-repeated claim that the building is one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in DC.

Life as a museum

The Patent Office building joined the Smithsonian Institution when it opened its doors as the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) in January 1968 after four years of renovations. This returned the structure to its original function: showing off some of the best talent America had to offer, though now in art instead of technical innovation.


The exterior entrance to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. Image by the Smithsonian.

The building was transformed again with the addition of the Kogod Courtyard in 2007. World renowned architect Norman Foster teamed with Gustafson Guthrie Nichols on the courtyard, making sure to address concerns from preservationists about changing the character of the protected structure with an undulating glass ceiling that was modern and distinct but did not disrupt the historic building or block natural light.


The Kogod courtyard. Photo by Foster and Partners.

The courtyard design clearly draws inspiration from Foster's earlier work on the Great Court at the British Museum. However, he was limited on the number of alterations he could make to the historic structure at SAAM and designed a "thin rubber seal a few feet deep [that] connects the glass canopy to the original rooftops, so that its weblike structure seems to hover just above the roofline of the old stone building," The New York Times said in 2007.

Eight columns in the Kogod Courtyard support the roof.


The Kogod courtyard canopy. Image by Foster and Partners.

Foster's design does not defer to the historic architecture, but it certainly still respects it. The soaring glass canopy is one of the most captivating features of the building.

The resulting museum and courtyard is now a space in which Washington residents visit regularly, even when not viewing art. The courtyard is often filled with people working on laptops and reading on winter weekdays—a testament to its popularity as one of Washington DC's iconic public spaces.

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