Tuesday, June 15, 2010

On the Scene :: MG+BW White Party

From the White House to the White Party,
Mitchell Gold has D
C covered

The 2010 White Party at Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams proved to be a crowd-pleaser. White wine, champagne, and piña coladas greeted guests, who were also treated to white decadent desserts and the pièce de résistance, a white-chocolate fondue fountain. Spinning tunes was NYC diva, Lady Bunny, a vision in white. Even two white Audi's parked curbside added to the overall atmosphere. Amidst all the excitement we had a chance to meet up with the man himself, Mitchell Gold.

Earlier in the day Gold and Steve Hildebrand visited the White House to address the dangers of religion-based bigotry and the negative effects on LGBT individuals, their families, and friends, a topic dear to his heart, and the subject of his book CRISIS. "We told them that they need to be a part of ending it, not complacent to it," said Gold. As a long time advocate of equal rights for LGBT persons, Gold admits that while things are changing for the better, there's still more that needs to be done.

Gold's advocacy extends to other hot topics as well, including that of sustainability, though he admits that this is not a new concept for his company, a member of the Sustainable Furnishings Council. Gold recalls when he first learned of the harmful affects of many furniture components, such as foams containing CFCs and HCFCs. "I called Bob and said 'Our industry is one of the worst!'" Since that time Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams have worked to ensure that the products they create are as beautiful for the natural environment as they are for the built environment. "We've been practicing sustainability for 21 years."

It is this commitment to quality products and thoughtful design which Gold credits as helping them through the these tough economic times. Though he admits that they were hit by the economy like everyone else, Gold is certain that the worst is behind us, stating that business has been busy and increasing steadily since August. Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams have opened several new stores recently, including their newest in Orange County, CA.

When asked about what's new on the horizon, Mitchell Gold urges us to standby for the new collection, set to roll out in August. Gold says that he sees home furnishings heading decidedly more modern. Neutral, natural upholstery with colorful accents reign, and the combination of white and gold is a trend we can expect to see more of (We hope this includes the combination of Mitchell Gold and White Parties!)

With our thoughts turned to summer, we conclude by asking Gold about his own personal summer travel plans, where upon we are delighted to hear that Gold and his partner Timothy Scofield, chief executive of the Washington-based Velvet Foundation, are set to marry this summer, which will be followed by a honeymoon in Italy. Talk about la dolce vita. Cheers to the happy couple!
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On a Roll :: Public Bikes

When the founder of DWR decides to start making bicycles, should we expect anything less than a stylish, comprehensively designed product? That's exactly what is delivered with PUBLIC BIKES, Rob Forbes' new company, which seeks to provide real city bikes to real city people.

With 6 bike offerings, most of which are equipped with fenders and chain-guards, these bikes are commuter friendly (even if the DC summers can be less than). And with their colorful finish options and reflective white tires, these bikes are sure to turn heads. Though currently you'll have to travel to NYC to test ride one, we're hopeful that we'll be seeing these locally soon! And for those of you already operating on peddle power, be sure to check out the sharp looking accessories and gear offered by the company as well.

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams' last White Party (June '08) proved to be quite the event, complete with NYC glam queen Lady Bunny. So we're excited that it's time now for the 2010 MG+BW White Party, this Thursday Night! We'll be on hand to take it all in and report on the new offerings on hand and coming soon from the design duo.
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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Coffee :: Filter

Being a bit of a self-proclaimed coffee aficionado, I'm always excited to find a new, neighborhood-oriented alternative to that chain with the mermaid-laden cups. One such great, urbancentric coffeehouse, Filter, just opened in DC's Dupont Circle neighborhood.

Before even stepping foot in the shop, designed by Heiserman Group, you will encounter one of the first eye-catching elements: The logo, which, with it's clever use of a coffee pot silhouette, is one of the better logo designs we've seen in some time. This logo appears again on the beautiful orange La Marzocco espresso machine, stamped on the cardboard cup sleeves, and on the brown ceramic mugs -- Yep, unlike other places, not all the coffee is automatically relegated to paper cups, meaning you have no excuse not to be kind to yourself and the environment by taking a moment to stop and smell the coffee beans and enjoy your java in the shop! While doing so you'll undoubtedly take note of the attractive combination of rough, aged surfaces, such as the exposed brick, concrete floors, and reclaimed wood wall panels, shelving, and banquette (recycled from old barn doors) and polished, modern accents, such as the lighting fixtures and simple furnishings.
All in all Filter's pleasing palette and relaxed atmosphere brilliantly complement owner Rasheed Jabr's philosophy of "bringing the attention back to the main ingredient... Coffee".

Filter features coffee roasted by Annapolis, MD's Caffe Pronto, baked goods from DC based Pollystyle, and Silver Tips teas out of Tarrytown, New York.
|Location and Hours|

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Room & Board Offer a Sneak Peak of DC Store

The Washington metro area's first Room & Board store is scheduled to open June 14th, but here's a first look, courtesy of Room & Board.

(click image to view larger)

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Million Dollar Listing

From time to time we here at DesignCult are afforded the opportunity to tour some unique properties. One such opportunity occurred recently when design firm Alter Urban invited us to tour one of their recent projects, referred to as the 'StageFront House', in the District's Van Ness neighborhood. The home, currently on the market for $6.5M, is a modern respite from the mostly traditional, suburban-like detached homes that surround it.

The design of the home began by considering the notions of privacy, as expressed through the formal stone block facade at the street and entry; and openness, expressed through the casual, free flowing spaces and airy interior courtyard. This courtyard, which results from the triangular arrangement of the 'L'-shaped main house and angled pool house, is bounded by living spaces that open onto this central space, visually linking the various parts of the house through dynamic vistas. In this respect, the home is very much like the courtyard homes prevalent in parts of Europe (as well as celebrated in the California Modern homes developed by Joseph Eichler), which are almost like mini medieval cities, with lively, public spaces within their outer walls. But beyond being the active center node of the house, the central, protected court, with its patio and swimming pool, also affords a generous amount of natural daylight to most of the interior spaces of the home, without sacrificing privacy.

It is also clear that entry and path were considered in the home's design, as openings in the stone facade offer glimpses into the spaces beyond. Entering the house, one first passes beyond the threshold of the stone wall, into an interstitial space to reach the front door. Then, once inside, the space opens up , with the living, dining, and kitchen spaces flowing together, with view out beyond the courtyard. From the front door, it is easy to take in just about all of the main floor's public space. The modern interiors feature ebonized floors, which are echoed in the dark stained cabinetry in the kitchen, which is completed with white, solid-surface counters, stainless steel appliances, and tile backsplash. Beyond the kitchen is the first of several utility spaces: a catering kitchen -slash- butler's pantry. To the left of the main living space is a powder room and a stair to the upper and lower floors, beyond which is a small wing containing two bedrooms and bathrooms.

The upstairs features the lavish masters suite, with its cavernous walk-in closet and spacious master bath, complete with free-standing stone tub. (I must admit I found myself mentally subdividing the huge home into condo units at one point!) And if all this is not enough, the lower level features the ultimate 'man cave': a loungey rec room, complete with bar, a workout room, and home theatre. Also found in the lower level is a cavernous multi-machine laundry room that might almost inspire one to do laundry -- maybe.

The vibrant interior design, the product of Ewing Noble Winn, enlivens the home with a boutique-like, South Beach flair. The various lighting elements, textures, and bold use of colors add warmth and visual interest throughout the home's many spaces. The manicured, geometric landscaping, designed by Thorne Rankin, completes the home's exterior spaces.

One thing that is clear both in looking at the home's details and talking to the architects, designers, and builder (Rosenthal Homes) is how well integrated the various aspects of the project are, a testament to their teamwork. (While the generous budget of the client certainly helped to produce a beautiful space, as we've seen before, budget alone does not spell success.) And in the end, the team has a work they can be quite proud of.

(Photo credits: Bob Narod)
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Monday, March 1, 2010

DDOT Rolls Out New Solar Powered Parking Meters

DDOT Director Gabe Klein introduces a new solar powered, coin and credit card accepting parking meter, part of a new pilot program. Other options being tested include a pay-by-phone program.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

DC's West Elm to Shutter

We've just learned via DCist and Washington Business Journal that the DC location of West Elm will be closing in the next month. According to store manager Dion Barela, " This location was just not as successful as they’d hoped.” Citing less than estimated tax revenues, the closure appears to also be due in part to the weak economy. Sadly large furniture retailers and smaller shops as well have not always had such an easy time making it in the District. Brazilian furniture store Artefacto had a similarly brief presence in Georgetown, and back in Penn Quarter it has come to light that Apartment Zero has not only relocated, but shifted their focus away from retail sales. And while the Penn Quarter location may not be as ideal for residential shoppers as other locations (such as what is becoming a fairly solid home furnishings district along 14th and U Streets, NW) the aforementioned Artefacto was across the street from Georgetown's popular Cady's Alley. Certainly there is hope that this is not a sign of turmoil for other furniture retailers, especially as the DC area's first Room & Board is slatted to open on 14th Street this spring, weeks after the West Elm closure.
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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Urban Seen :: Pondering a Greener Bus Stop

So I was amused to come across this sight several weeks ago on my way to the metro: A Christmas tree sitting upright in a trashcan beside a Metrobus stop. Presumably this was simply someone's effort to discard of their left-over holiday conifer, but it gave me pause, as for a moment it appeared to be a planted shrub. This led me to thinking about the lack of green in this particular transit plaza, and furthermore to imagine the incorporation of plantings in concert with common urban elements, such as the humble bus stops.

Admittedly, the design of the DC Metrobus shelter has gotten more attractive over the last few years. The one pictured here is one of the few remaining of this kind that I've come across, many having been replaced by new glass and aluminum shelters, which feel much more open and less oppressive. But what if, beyond being more aesthetically pleasing, our bus shelters could be better for the environment as well. Imagine if these shelters incorporated planters which would collect rainwater from their roofs to water the plants and help reduce stormwater, which would otherwise end up on sidewalks and carrying debris into our sewer system. How about a sedum-sprouting greenroof? How wonderful if our bus stops could become a living oasis in our cities.

Some jurisdictions, including San Francisco and Chicago, are exploring sustainable solutions, such as solar powered bus shelters. Others are utilizing LED streetlamps (a topic which I'll explore further in a future post). The point, really, is for us to begin to reinvent common urban elements in such as way that they contribute to not only the built environment but to the natural environment as well. Imagine solar-powered streetlamps illuminating permeable sidewalks. Trash and recycling receptacles made themselves from recycled materials. Bike racks that integrate seating to encourage multiple forms of street life. Once we start thinking beyond the singular use of the ordinary objects that surround us, we'll realize countless ways in which these objects can become both more dynamic and more eco-friendly.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

DC Streetcars In Transit

The Washington Business Journal is reporting that the DC Streetcars, sporting the same graphics as the DC Circulator buses, are on their way from the Czech Republic to DC.

Read the WBJ article here.

The streetcars will first be introduced on H Street in Northeast, and are anticipated to stimulate the growth of this redeveloping area of the city.

For more information on the DC Streetcar project, visit DDOT's Streetcar site here.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Standing Room Only

“The human backside is a dimension architects seem to have forgotten.”
~ William H. Whyte

Several weeks ago I was meeting a friend for lunch in the Golden Triangle part of downtown. I arrived about 20 minutes early, which, as anyone who knows me will know, is a rarity, but figured 'no bother...I have a book to read'. Only, when I started to scope out a spot to sit and read I realized that, despite all the offices, shops, and cafes around me, there was, in fact, no public space to sit. There were, of course, those cafes, but I did not feel right sitting and waiting at an empty table while paying customers circled with food, looking for a place to lunch. And as I looked around, I realized that there was no ledge or planter, no entry or stoop, where I felt it appropriate to sit without being shooed away. So, after circling the block, I finally decided to go into the Border's bookstore at the opposite end of the block to pass the time.

Which got me thinking: Has architecture and urban planning forgotten about the individual?

When I was in college I remember a classmate who would shoo individuals from in front of whatever "great work" we were visiting. I was put off by this, not merely because I felt it rude, but also because of the simple truth that buildings exists first and foremost because of individual needs. But all too often I think that this fact is lost somewhere along the process. (Look at just about any architect's portfolio and you will notice in too many cases the lack of even the suggestion of human habitation, beyond perhaps carefully staged Mid-Century modern furnishings and a bowl of apples). Maybe it is the drive to create a great piece of beauty that leads us designers to the point that we want our buildings to be viewed as art objects.
Not too close now...don't touch.

While I believe that architecture is an art, there is also that 'function' thing to remember. If architecture exists to provide space for human habitation, then shouldn't buildings in fact accommodate, rather than discourage interaction? This was of course a firm held belief of modernists, "form follows function" and all of that, but all too often it is the form that gets the glory.

A disheartening trend throughout this city recently has been the loss of arcades. This is mostly done for gain on the part of the building owner; a means to increase lease space. There are those that will tell you that arcades, in the end, only gather leaves, debris, and bums, but the reality is that they serve several very useful purposes. First and foremost they exist as an interstitial space, transitioning between the 'public' sidewalk and 'private' interiors of the buildings, which in effect also extend the width of the sidewalk. They provide a sense of scale, clearly demarcating the pedestrian zone, as well as providing visual depth to the building. They are also by default integral sun shading devices on the faces which receive abundant light. They provide sheltered spaces for cafes. And finally their absence is certainly most sorely felt on a rainy day when their is no longer that covered path to keep you dry. There are many excuses why the arcades are vanishing from our buildings, but the real reason is the value placed on profit over amenity. The result is a tight, less articulated streetwall, and less space for the pedestrian.

Which brings us back to those benches, of which the excuse of becoming collection points for the homeless is also a commonly used excuse as to why our streetscapes are lacking these amenities. In fact take a look around and you will be surprised how many various devices there are to discourage one from resting on this ledge or that stoop. But the great irony is that if you look at our parks, such as Dupont Circle, which is full of benches, you will find that, though there are homeless here, that this has not discouraged people from using these spaces. And the reality is that the lack of benches (or the lack of arcades for that matter) does not discourage the homeless, who will and do adapt to whatever happens to be their surroundings. Like so many things, we allow our worries of what bad may happen to take priority over the good that these things can produce. Our perceptions of what is the right thing to do to keep an area clean and safe are unfortunately all too often skewed. And we as city dwellers suffer.

This summer I've decided to reread Jane Jacobs' "Death and Life of Great American Cities", and one of the first things that she tells us in this book is the value of having many eyes on the street, which are encouraged by having public places for people to gather. This is why street cafes are so valuable to our city (another point of contention for some), but also why those benches are so important. They provide and furthermore encourage places for us to stop, rest, gather, and watch the city around us. Yes, there are those parks with their benches, but as Jacobs also tells us, these parks, especially those which are removed from the street in one manner or the other, do not have the same affect. But furthermore, shouldn't it be our goal to create cities which first and foremost create engaging spaces for the inhabitant, specifically the pedestrian?

In this age of sustainability, we should be encouraging people to enjoy our sidewalks. In this time of urban resurgence, we should be creating great urban streets that encourage and place priority on the pedestrian. In this period of economic downturn, we shouldn't have to pay for a cup of coffee in order to have a place to sit and read. As designers, we need to do a better job of remembering who we are designing for.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Appreciation of Space

Back in October in his 'Modernism in Your Neighborhood' series, Bill told you about The Lacey, the latest offering from Division1 Architects. A few weeks ago I had a chance to attend the opening for this very progressive project. And I'm happy to report that this new multi-family building is deserving of all the hype. There is a thoughtful, yet minimal use of materials, with emphasis placed on the inherent quality of the material palette. The wood, glass, concrete, and steel all work together beautifully, with a result that is thoroughly modern. There are, of course, the stray details -- an odd combination of step-lights and wall sconces in the corridors, unfortunate junction box covers behind the vanity lights, and curiously narrow dining rooms (when sliding partitions are closed), but these are few (and any further focus would amount to nitpicking.) What really draws one's attention are the nice, yet simple details - the veneer plywood treatment of the walls, the simple tile flooring in the common areas, and one of the nicest egress stairs I've ever come across.

But what really caught my attention at the opening was how people were interacting with the spaces. Often at an opening people are milling around, looking here and there, but moving quickly from room to room, not really lingering and not really looking at the architecture itself. But here people were truly enjoying the spaces, looking at this detail and that, admiring the materiality, and appreciating the outdoor spaces and views that the project creates. It is refreshing to see a project where the architecture at once takes center stage and simultaneously creates pleasing spaces which the inhabitants don't simply live in, but truly enjoy.

If there was any question as to whether DC was ready for progressive, modern architecture, this project is a resounding YES.
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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day!

(Photo via Pollution Issues)

Happy Earth Day DC!

So we are always seeing those 'Top 10 Cities" surveys, but here's one that we found particularly interesting. Treehugger has ranked the Top 10 Cities to be in for Earth Day. Curious where DC stands? Read the rankings here.

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Tips for a Greener Earth Day

Looking for ways that you can be more 'green' this Earth Day? Check out our suggestions from last year's Earth Day post. We think they're worth repeating!

Have a tip for how we can all be more green this Earth Day and every day? Let us know in the comments!
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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Gehry to design Eisenhower Memorial

It was announced this past week that starchitect Frank Gehry will make another attempt to have one of his designs actually built in the District of Columbia. Gehry beat out Krueck & Sexton of Chicago, PWP Landscape Architecture of Berkeley, Calif., and Rogers Marvel Architects of New York.

There is, perhaps, a certain appropriateness that the architect known for his curvy and often chaotic architecture would be selected to memorialize the president who created the National Interstate Highway System (undoubtedly there will be some reminiscent forms). But what I really wonder is how well the architect, who was selected because he " knows how to bring in the public" (according to the Commission's chairman Rocco C. Siciliano), will succeed at designing a monument that will memorialize rather than overshadow the achievements of Eisenhower. Is it okay that the monument will draw people as much for the designer as for the person or events it was built to represent? Apparently the commissions thinks so. At any rate we'll have to wait and see, as details of the winning design have not yet been disclosed.

What we do know is that it is to "
combine physical and living elements". Per the commission, "Perhaps a physical structure could house an organization or a monument could be erected with an active organization operating elsewhere. In either case, there will be a physical structure and programs in furtherance of President Eisenhower’s lifetime legacy of public service. The actual design questions remain open to those who will offer concepts."

The example given is the Kennedy Center, of which I must beg to differ with the commission's assessment as "a striking building in Washington, DC". Let us hope this "permanent remembrance" of Eisenhower fairs far better.

Learn More: Eisenhower Memorial Homepage

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Be Green: Watch a Movie

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The 17th annual Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital, March 11 through 22, will present 136 documentary, feature, animated, archival, experimental and children’s films selected to provide fresh perspectives on environmental issues facing our planet. The health and sustainability of earth’s oceans and sea life is a major theme of the 2009 Festival, which features cinematic work from 34 countries and 56 Washington, D.C., United States and world premieres. Fifty-four filmmakers and 69 special guests will discuss their work at the Festival.

The Environmental Film Festival has become the leading showcase for environmental films in the United States. Presented in collaboration with 101 local, national and global organizations, the Festival is one of the largest cooperative cultural events in the nation’s capital. Films are screened at 52 venues throughout the city, including museums, embassies, libraries, universities and local theaters. Many screenings are free.

For a complete schedule, visit the Festival Web site at www.dcenvironmentalfilmfest.org.
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Friday, February 20, 2009

Anacostia Gets R.E.E.L.

This past Thursday I had an opportunity to experience something quite exciting, and something that frankly I'd like to see more of around the city. Real community activism. Fifteen individuals brought together with a single cause. To not just improve their surroundings, but to make of them a destination.

Out of that desire has emerged R.E.E.L. (which stands for River East Emerging Leaders). Billing itself as 'a progressive network created to enlighten, engage and empower our River East Community', R.E.E.L. hopes to bring attention, community involvement, and ultimately investment to some of the more neglected areas of the city. The event took place at the progressive Honfleur Gallery (more on this great art space in a future post, but in the meanwhile be sure to check out their website or stop by).

The overall take from Thursday's event was a pleasant mix of community pride and a desire for positive change. The anticipation and excitement was truly tangible, and those of us from other wards may have even found ourselves a little envious, perhaps wondering if we couldn't get the same sort of thing started in our own neighborhoods.

So forget what you think you know about Anacostia, and stay tuned. If last week's event is any indication, the area east of the river has a bright future ahead.

For more on R.E.E.L., please attend their next event on Wednesday, March 18th.
6:30-8:30 PM
Honfleur Gallery
1241 Good Hope Rd., SE
Washington, DC 20020
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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Metro Announces Plans to Use Stimulus Funds for 'Shovel Ready' Projects

This just in from Metro. We only hope that this includes replacing more of the old bus shelters with the new, modern design!


Metro prepared to begin host of projects using economic stimulus funds

For immediate release: February 18, 2009

Projects will create jobs, build infrastructure for an improved Metro

Fixing crumbling platforms and the oldest section of track in the Metro system, installing emergency tunnel evacuation carts, securing a bus garage and replacing old buses, are just a handful of projects that Metro officials have deemed “shovel-ready” to help jumpstart the economy using Congressional economic stimulus funds.

Metro officials today unveiled a list of projects before The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board for inclusion in the region’s six-year transportation improvement program.

“We are proud to be the first in the region to have a detailed list of ‘shovel ready’ projects,” Metro Chief Administrative Officer Emeka Moneme says. “We’re ready to do our part to boost the economy starting now.”

The Metro projects are focused on stimulating the local and national economy by creating jobs and building a stronger regional transit system. All of the projects are linked to Metro’s strategic goals of delivering quality service, improving reliability, using resources wisely and ensuring safety. The projects total $230 million.

“Our projects target improved passenger and maintenance facilities, safety and security, information technology, operations and equipment and will make a vast improvement in our infrastructure to enable us to provide better service,” says Metro General Manager John Catoe.

Some examples of Metro’s stimulus projects include:

• Replacing Metro’s oldest buses

• Replacing crumbling platforms

• Installing SmarTrip purchase capabilities at more Metro fare vending machines

• Enhancing bus garage security

• Installing technologies to improve bus route and schedule information

• Rehabilitating the oldest stretch of track in the rail system

• Building a railcar inspection and test facility to speed up the process of putting railcars into service

• Updating the train arrival signs on platforms and mezzanines

• Replacing the Metro Center Customer Sales Facility

• Expanding and replacing vehicles for paratransit service

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Friday, February 13, 2009

DDOT to hold First Public Forum on Anacostia Waterfront Initiative


Public Forum on Anacostia Waterfront Initiative

Program is First in New Educational Series

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is inviting interested parties to attend the inaugural Anacostia Waterfront Forum on Tuesday, February 17, 2009. The program is the first in a new educational series about the benefits development along the entire Anacostia Waterfront will bring to the District of Columbia.

Meeting Information:


Anacostia Waterfront Forum: “Sustainable Development, Infrastructure and the Future of the District of Columbia”


Gabe Klein, Acting Director, DDOT
Kathleen Penney, Chief Engineer, DDOT
Charles Wilson, President, Historic Anacostia Block Association
Uwe Brandes. Vice President for Innovation, Urban Land Institute
Walter Smith, Executive Director, DC Appleseed Center for Law & Justice


Tuesday, February 17, 2009, 6:30 – 8:30 pm


Martin Luther King, Jr. Library
Great Hall
901 G Street, NW

The Library is near the Gallery Place – Chinatown Metro Station on the Red, Green & Yellow lines. Use the 9th Street exit when you arrive at the station. There is also free parking available in the garage below the library.

Click Here for flyer. (pdf)

More after the jump...

The development of the Anacostia Waterfront is a topic of discussion in the District among community activists, political leaders and national policy experts. In a letter to DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mayor Adrian Fenty put in the District’s bid for some of the money proposed in President Obama’s economic stimulus package. In a Washington Post commentary that appeared on February 1, Alice Rivlin, Brookings Institution and Walter Smith, DC Appleseed Center, urged President Obama to “make the critical infrastructure needs of our nation's capital a high priority.”

At Tuesday’s forum, DDOT’s Acting Director Gabe Klein will provide the welcome and Chief Engineer Kathleen Penney will give a presentation on the topic, “Sustainable Development, Infrastructure and the Future of the District of Columbia.” Presentations will focus on how investments in Waterfront infrastructure should lead to social, economic, and environmental progress in Waterfront and District neighborhoods, but especially those East of the Anacostia River.

Several community leaders will participate in the forum and members of the audience will also have an opportunity to ask questions.

For more information about the District’s Anacostia Waterfront Program, please visit www.theanacostiawaterfront.com or call (202) 715-6641.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Artomatic 2009 Takes it to the River

Artomatic 2009 will be held in DC's Capitol Riverfront BID

ARTOMATIC NEWS RELEASE: In celebration of its 10th anniversary, Artomatic will be bringing its trademark one-of-a-kind multimedia arts event to Half Street’s 55 M Street, S.E., in Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Riverfront neighborhood in summer 2009, the arts organization announced today.

In conjunction with the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District (BID) and Monument Realty, Artomatic will be presenting more than five weeks of art, music, theater, workshops and more — all of it free for visitors. Located between the U.S. Capitol Building and the Anacostia River and between Barracks Row Main Street and South Capitol Street, the Capitol Riverfront is a vibrant new business center, urban neighborhood, entertainment district and waterfront destination.

More after the jump...

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with Artomatic on this unique arts event. With both Artomatic and Major League Baseball within blocks of one another, the Capitol Riverfront will be the go-to location for summertime entertainment in 2009,” said Michael Stevens, executive director of the Capitol Riverfront BID. “Artomatic sets the stage for the type of future festivals and entertainment that you will see in the Capitol Riverfront at the three new parks — Diamond Teague, The Yards Park and Canal Park — which begin opening spring 2009 through 2011.”

Artomatic 2009 will be held at 55 M Street, S.E., a new 275,000 square feet LEED Silver Class A office building developed by Monument Realty. The building, currently under construction, is located atop the Navy Yard Metro stop and within a block of Nationals Park, home to the Nationals baseball team.

“We are pleased to be hosting Artomatic at 55 M Street for its 10th anniversary,” said Michael Darby, principal of Monument Realty. “It is not only a great opportunity to promote the neighborhood and attract new visitors but also to bring some very talented artists to the Capitol Riverfront.

Held regularly since 1999, Artomatic transforms an unfinished indoor space into an exciting and diverse arts event that is free and open to the public. In addition to displays by hundreds of artists, the event features free films, educational presentations and children’s activities, as well as musical, dance, poetry, theater and other performances. Artomatic 2008, held in D.C.’s NoMa neighborhood, attracted a record-breaking 52,500 visitors and 1,540 participating artists.

The 2009 Artomatic event promises to be an equally appealing destination for D.C. area arts fans as well as those looking for summer entertainment, said Artomatic President Veronica Szalus.

“The D.C. area has a vibrant, energetic arts scene and we are excited to be able to showcase that talent and share it with the community,” Szalus said.

Artomatic 2009 will be held May 29 to July 5. The event will be open Wednesdays and Thursdays from noon to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 1 a.m., and Sundays from noon to 10 p.m. Artomatic will be closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Admission to Artomatic is always free for visitors.

Registration for participation in Artomatic will open in March and will be open to all artists — including painters, photographers, sculptors, graphic designers, musicians, poets, actors and dancers. Artomatic is an unjuried event, so all artists are welcome, from professionals to beginners. Registration will be on a first-come, first-served basis and will end once space is filled. To be notified of the date when registration will open or to stay up on other Artomatic news, sign up to receive ArtoNews, the Artomatic newsletter, on the Artomatic Web site.

Artomatic is run entirely by participating volunteers, and new participants are sought year-round. To volunteer and help make plans for Artomatic 2009, e-mail volunteer@artomatic.org.

“Artomatic 2009 will fulfill 10 years of commitment to the growth of our cultural community and help fuel our creative economy,” said Artomatic Chair George C. Koch.

More details on the event will be available on the Artomatic Web site, www.artomatic.org, in coming weeks.

About Artomatic: Artomatic is a creative community that collaborates to produce and present a free arts spectacular. Participation is open to all, from recognized artists to undiscovered talents, who work in a variety of arts forms. In partnership with the development community, Artomatic transforms unused building space into a playground for expression, serves as a catalyst for community growth in up-and-coming neighborhoods, and helps to grow the creative economy. The nonprofit Artomatic organization is headed by a volunteer Board of Directors and is funded in part by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, an agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. For more information, visit

About the Capitol Riverfront BID: The Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District (BID) is dedicated to making the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood clean, safe, friendly and vibrant; to creating the best quality of life in the neighborhood; and to attracting office tenants, residents, retailers and visitors. For more information, visit www.capitolriverfront.org.

About Monument Realty: Monument Realty is an award-winning full service real estate firm. The firm's diverse portfolio includes mixed use, office, residential and hotel properties. Monument Realty has developed more than 5 million square feet of office space, nearly 5,000 residential units and three hotels valued at more than $5 billion. For more information, visit www.monumentrealty.com.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bad to the Core

Despite Multiple Bites at the 'Apple', Design Still Floundering

What happens when modern technology gets put into older, traditional, even historic surroundings? The answer has a lot to do with how well the integration of the old into the new is executed. In some cases the modern interventions adversely affect the existing, such as in old offices and homes where wire mold raceways run along baseboards and up wall surfaces, or in older retail establishments where acoustical ceilings conceal not only ductwork and conduit, but often beautiful tin ceilings. Bad examples of integrating old and new have certainly given rise to a fair number of critics of modern design. Likewise, many methods have been devised at hiding 'unsightly' modern amenities in our homes. However, there are also countless examples where these modern interventions are done well. Certainly when there is thoughtful integration, and the design of the object is as important as the function it performs, then the results are often a pleasing interplay of old and new. This is evident in everyday life, where well-designed objects become more than just functional. They help to transform our surroundings. The glossy kitchen appliance becomes a showpiece in our kitchen and the flatscreen TV no longer need be relegated to a cabinet. Even plumbing fixtures have become design stars in that most basic of functional spaces.

Yes, when we accept that advances in technology have manifestations in our daily lives, and further accept that our environments are adaptable to these (provided that the design of these objects is thoughtful and beautifully executed) then the enrichment that these provide is not simply limited to the conveniences they provide, but is also evident in the contribution they offer to our built environment.

If there is one company that understands how to make a design statement out of technology it is Apple. From their release of curvaceous CPUs in an array of bright colors to the most recent iPod, which has become as much accessory as music player, the rest of the industry has had to follow suit. Apple gets that the design of the object can elicit the senses as much as the technology its flashy sheath contains. It is surprising then that the designs for the proposed Apple Store in Georgetown fall so flat.

There is, of course, another part of the equation. That being the Old Georgetown Board (with emphasis being placed on 'Old' -- at least as far as the members' interest in design are concerned). Perhaps then we should not have been too surprised to see that the first design presented to the board featured cornice and trim detailing borrowed from the neighbors. Apple's architects, like many a designer working in the District, apparently started with a dumbed down, safe approach, something intended to satisfy the OGB's obsession with historical mimicry. Fortunately, this design did not pass muster with the board. Nor should it have. The board's comments were actually on the money. The openings (especially at the ground floor) are too wide. The proportions are all wrong. The failure of this first design (and a few subsequent iterations) did not occur due to a difference of opinion at the review meetings, but rather on the drafting board. Even without the tacked-on ornamentation, the building proposed fails to acknowledge the existing rhythm of the adjacent facades. Rather than conveying the proportions of its three-story neighbors, the proposed infill places an awkward row of windows at its upper second floor, aligning with nothing. At the entry level, the glass storefront is too much of nothing, and does not jive with the rest of the facade.

What Apple and their architects have failed to do is to apply the same rigor given to the design of their products and packaging. Let's start with the basics. Apple is proposing to demolish the existing building on the site fronting Wisconsin Avenue and replace it with a new building. Why then does the rendered design attempt to evoke the past with ill-fitting traditional motif that even the foremost po-mo designer would have considered bad form? This is a new building in historical clothing (and that clothing is a straitjacket!)

Something good might have happened, then, after that first meeting. Design concept 2 actually succeeds in a way that designs 1, 3, and 4 never can. Why? Because design concept 2 actually accepts that it is not an old building. It does not do a half-assed job of conforming. Rather, it does what modern interventions into a historic landscape should do. It creates dialogue. At its core, unlike its sibling proposals, concept 2 has the right idea. Unfortunately, this concept is not without its own flaws. Here the integration is lacking completely. There is no apparent attempt to relate the mass to its neighbors. The design is too stubborn for its own good. Rather than rendering a thoughtful dialogue between the old and new, concept 2 is cacophonous and jarring. What is warranted is contextual modernism; what is delivered is apathetic modernism. Unfortunately this concept died a premature death in the OGB's court.

Concepts 3 and 4, by contrast, are dead on arrival. Concept 3 at least can be credited by attempting to push the limits within the perceived constraints of the historic district, but here branding goes a bit awry, as though an Oldenburg-sized PowerBook has been opened up on the avenue. (It is at once both Venturi's proverbial 'duck' and 'decorated shed'.) As if taking the worst aspects of concept 2, there is no reference to the rhythm of the street (beyond height), and any level of detail is non-existent. Despite even Steve Job's blessing, concept 3 is a dud.

Regrettably, this has all been followed up by a fourth concept that, were this Microsoft, might be referred to as Concept 1 'Vista'. It seems we have returned to the safe approach, and yet still missed the mark.

There is one main thing spoiling the bunch. Apple appears clearly perplexed in this situation to do what, in the design of its objects, seems modis operandi: to produce a design where outward appearance is as important as its content while integrating itself into its surroundings. Instead, Apple has tried to blend in via overt reference, in a way that might be characterized by offering iPods in houndstooth or denim patterns, or Macs in woodgrain. The result is a design that is neither Apple or Georgetown. The applique of ornament is too shortsighted to appease anyone. What Apple must do here, as with their products, is to put emphasis on the form and scale of this design. How does it relate to its context? How does it fit into its site? These are fundamental to creating a successful design in any environment, but especially when working within a historic context. The design must walk the line of being thoughtfully progressive and respective of the historic context. Should such a design arise, this will not only work to Apple's advantage by giving them a building that reflects their brand, but will also help to accentuate the nature of this part of the city by refusing to give it what it does not need: another stale, neo-traditional bore.

Update: OGB has rejected the fourth iteration of the design: Washington Post

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

News from Around the Blogosphere...

From And Now, Anacostia, news that Clark Realty has withdrawn as developer for the much anticipated Poplar Point redevelopment project. Read their post here.
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Friday, January 30, 2009

'Green' on Sustainability? Up your Earth-Friendly IQ at NBM!!

Carbon Footprint. Eco-Friendly. Sustainable. Green. These are words that within the last few years have entered into our vocabulary in a big way. It seems now, more than ever, people want to be more environmentally sensitive, from becoming less wasteful with natural resources and making greater strides to recycle, to lowering energy and fuel consumption. But if you are like most people, you may not really know what "green" and the rest of these catch-phrases really mean.

A great (and certainly fun) way to gain enlightenment is to head over to the National Building Museum (via bike, metro, or on foot, of course) and visit their 'Green Community' exhibit (currently on display through October 25, 2009). As much a feast for the eyes as for the mind, the exhibit features interactive displays and follows sustainable principles to educate the visitor about both the ways in which we use (and abuse) our planet Earth, and the various initiatives being explored to lessen our negative impact and encourage stewardship of the environment. The extensive exhibit is curated by Susan Piedmont-Palladino, professor of architecture at Virginia Tech's Washington Alexandria Architecture Center, who on a recent visit explained that the exhibit's name is singular (rather than 'communities') to emphasis the connectivity and role that we all play in the protection of our global community. While she points out that none of the initiatives featured in the exhibit are perfect answers, all are steps in the right direction. Of particular interest is a part of the exhibit which features local challenges and initiatives, which will change as the exhibit tours.

Want a sneak preview? Watch an introductory exhibition tour here.

And once you've whetted your appetite, continue your education by checking out, Gang Green, the blog where Susan muses about sustainability, design, and life as an urban ecophile.
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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Transparent Invasion

Downtown Washington, DC has recently seen an influx of glassy modern design. Older concrete boxes are being converted to modern, transparent and more elegant buildings all over the downtown street scape. Some of the older lifeless concrete bunkers are being gutted and re-skinned in transparent glistening glass while others are being leveled all together for new modern construction. Transparency is in. Behemoth bunkers are out. One better example of this new design craze is at the intersection of 18th Street and Connecticut Avenue NW. It is a re-skin job of a former concrete box that I am sure nobody even remembers what it had looked like before. This addition to the neighborhood adds a very nice modern element that stands out for today but still gives hints to the historic context that hugs it. Although I am over the green shade of curtain wall glass that is everywhere, the green glass facade adds a nice amount of color and vibrancy to the once mundane intersection. The glass curtain wall also adds a nice touch to the historic fabric where it's transparency actually exposes the neighboring buildings a bit more than the concrete that had hid them. This modern building actually makes the neighboring layers of history that much more evident. I am not a fan of the stainless steel base that creates a colonnade for the passerby. It feels too heavy and monolithic compared to the lightness of the glass massing above. There is no transition between the two elements. The roof top embellishments although add a nice amount of interest to the building. An understated yet elegant tower adds to the corner condition. It does not dominate the design but adds another layer and does so by the tighter rhythm of glazing divisions and structural detailing. Turning the corner the elevation becomes more uniform, but the uniformity echos the historic proportions of the townhouse bays that line the side street. This is a nice gesture to the scale of the past yet it does not take away from the modern importance and cohesiveness of the building. Overall this building is a nice modern addition to the ever evolving urban fabric of this historic city.
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Monday, December 29, 2008

Is that all there is?

This DC 'Dwell'er is underwhelmed by District's mention in design magazine.

I was excited when I received the December/January issue of 'Dwell' magazine and noticed the words on the front cover: Capital Ideas: Exploring Modern DC. I felt, in a sense, that DC had arrived! I was even more encouraged when I saw that the article was an interview with National Building Museum and AIA/DC veteran, and friend of architecture and design, Martin Moeller. Perched midrise above Church Street in his penthouse “loft” condo (as we know, little is high above the District), we receive the story of DC from one of its own. And, unfortunately, that story is a resounding ‘blah’.

What we find in the pages that chronicle writer Aaron Britt’s visit to the Nation’s Capital is a lackluster, and somewhat insecure, awkward city. At points it seems as though Moeller is almost apologetic. When asked what he considers to be the most significant building in DC, the response centers on the city’s rowhouse typology (granted not a bad response), but settles on a quasi-disparaging mention of The Mall (Moeller: “for all its flaws, I love The Mall because it’s a great big void.”) While there is a delicious irony in that one of the best spaces in DC is one that hasn’t been built upon, I have to say that The Mall has always left me wanting. Merely a large-scale gesture rather than a great urban park, it is, for me, little more than the equivalent of a schoolyard: A large, grassy expanse serving ultimately more function (as an assembly space) than exemplifying great design. (As an aside, the Smithsonian Gardens around the ‘Castle’ more than make up for this lack of good landscape design on The Mall). And while the nearby Hirshhorn and Pei’s East Wing do get a brief mention, there are other gems that are missed. Surely the recently completed Newseum by Polshek Partnership deserves a mention, and I’m personally in love with a few lesser known works, such as KPF’s Institute for International Economics on Massachusetts Ave., and back on the mall are the thoughtfully conceived pair that are the African Art Museum and Sackler Gallery of Asian Art.

But Moeller concedes when prompted to address the plight of modern architecture in a city of limestone-veiled traditionalism that, “Though we haven’t been as great recently, take a look at what went up here in the 1960’s. Washington was a pretty progressive town”. This is a sad commentary, as certainly there are still some progressive minded individuals helping to shape the city today. Perhaps none is more prevalent than Phil Esocoff, who has developed his own language over the years, and the city has, in most cases, been the happy beneficiary. His use of brick veneer in sweeping, graceful gestures, in addition to being a thoughtful exploration of the materials, adds a dynamic quality to the streetlife in many parts of the city, including several fine examples along Massachusetts Ave, in the city’s emerging NoMa district.

And on the subject of emerging districts, when asked about the redevelopment of 14th Street, Moeller mentions that it is ‘something of a loft district’. Of course this is part right, part myth, thanks to the zoning overlay for this area, which in part has given rebirth to many of the great industrial buildings in this area, while other infill projects tell a fabricated story that would make any reader of Pottery Barn catalogues blush. These “(expletive deleted) imitation lofts” (as our favorite “urban graffiti” pufftag stickers once proclaimed) regretfully too often resort to gratuitous use of industrial motifs to proclaim an overtly “loft-like” aesthetic. There are, of course, the exceptions, such as the new Metropol, which overcomes this irrelevant brush with BoBo nostalgia. There are, in fact, authentic lofts in the city too, though these are less prevalent. The recently completed Yale Steam Lofts by architect John Ronan is one great example; Bonstra | Haresign’s Lamont Lofts, while a bit off the beaten path along Georgia Ave., is another example worthy of comment.

But the ‘beaten path’ here was, in fact, quite narrow, and charted a decidedly Northwest-centric course. (Regrettably this tendency is one inflicting many a DC resident and visitor alike, but have no doubt that some great neighborhoods wait ready for exploration in the District’s other quadrants). The redevelopment of Barracks Row in Eastern Market, which was not all that long ago listed among the nation’s best neighborhoods, is certainly worth the trip. Likewise, back in NW, redevelopment in areas such as Columbia Heights and NoMa serve as examples of DC’s resilience. It’s the neighborhoods in DC that make this a unique place to visit and explore as an urban enthusiast, both the established (Georgetown, Adam’s Morgan, Cleveland Park) and the emerging (Mt. Pleasant, Shaw, H Street). While we won’t woo you with tall buildings (Moeller throws his hat into that arena as well), there is an eclectic, vibrant, ever pervasive progressive underground that is waiting to be discovered. Unfortunately, you won’t learn about this in ‘Dwell’s article. What you will find is a disgraceful map (that is so shortsighted that the district is reduced to an area that spans G-town to Shaw, and from the White House to Meridian Hill Park. Not even Moeller’s beloved Mall made the cut! And the list of “attractions”, while offering an eclectic mix, is lacking (and includes some spots that are best skipped). While mentions of Contemporaria, Apartment Zero, Vastu, Vegitate, NBM, and the Phillips are certainly on the money, there was the noticeable lack of other design-seeker destinations, such as the many great stores along U Street (Rckndy, Millennium, and Urban Essentials to name a few) as well as Dupont’s Tabletop, and Georgetown’s Cady’s Alley in whole, dining favs, including 14th Street’s Marvin, Dupont’s Darlington House, and Penn Quarter’s (and now Barrack Row’s) understated Matchbox, and cultural destinations, such as The Corcoran. On the list that deserved an edit were Town Danceboutique, which, with its gimmicky gestures, held this commentator’s attention for merely a DC minute, Universal Gear, and the 9:30 club, as well as most of the remaining, which failed to apply to the topic of modern DC.

Perhaps our intrepid reporter merely had an evening to explore Moeller’s backyard (as most of the mentions are within blocks of Moeller’s roost). This is unfortunate, for while DC is still striving to find its voice in today’s design world, the design community is making strides. If you’ve not yet caught wind of the emerging creative energy in the District, stay tuned, and rest assure that it will not remain stifled. But perhaps the silver-lining here is that again…once again…the stage is set, and the challenge has been thrown down. If this IS all there is to DC, then let this be our time to overcome the timidness that undermines our fair city. Let this lackluster commentary of a mundane DC reawake the progressiveness that has been declared dead. Otherwise it may too be our fate that we reluctantly excuse our mediocrity when asked about ‘Modern DC’.

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