Thursday, January 31, 2008


Last week, my neighborhood was being invaded. The weeklong invasion consisted of a dozen or so urban revelers with hoodies and hightops, and several hundred cans of spray paint. Living in a very active neighborhood environment, I compiled a vast amount of commentary, questions, opinions, applause and complaints regarding the graffiti installation going up on the entire first floor perimeter of the old Church of The Rapture, cum T Street Flats, cum now vacant warehouse building on the corner of 14th and T NW. Much to my amusement and intrigue, I discovered that this was part of a sizeable installation for Meat Market Gallery's Performance Week. The best of the best in public graffiti artists were called into action to create a diverse canvas of urban art. The diversity in the typologies of the art are evident in the unique styles, layering, color patterns and scenes. Some of the neighbors complained and questioned the "building defacement" and how it was a distraction to the neigborhood. Many others found intrigue in the boldness of this as public art. The bottom line is that this installation created a discussion about graffiti as public art versus a public nuisance. While some opinions are that this is not a valid form of art, it is important to take a close look at the complexities of the finished product. Perspective, axonometrics, layering, color, and demsionality are just a few very difficult techniques that are a part of this art form. If anyone would question this, I challange them to create their own written name into a three dimensional perspectival version, aka tag.
The performances inside the top floor of the warehouse were a wide range of interactive and active art forms. The inside space was raw, and riddled with more graffiti installations. The Pink Line Project, Civilian Art Projects, and the Goethe Institut all contribued to this event conspired to stir discussion, participation, and accesibility to unique art forms. Urban art is exciting, should be approached with a very open mind, and can create some great discussion. The urban underground art scene is well and alive in our very own DC.

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In 2015, the Anacostia Waterfront will Shine! (Maybe...)

At Saturday's Anacostia Waterfront Community Fair the year 2015 was mentioned...a lot! We can imagine that this is when all the projects that are depicted in dreamy watercolor renderings on glossy display boards will actual come to fruition. Also about this time, representatives from DC WASA tell us, that major steps to control combined sewer overflow will be in place, serving to remedy the current system by which combined sewage and storm water overflows into the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers during heavy rainfalls. And even the new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge may be completed, though a DDot representative admitted that might be optimistic.

Don't be mistaken though, things are happening on the Anacostia Waterfront. The new Washington Nationals' ballpark is preparing for its inaugural season, and the area there abouts is betting on new residents with the construction of new rental and condo properties. Billing itself as the "DC's fastest selling condominium", Velocity is looking to lure new residents, as well as new retail and restaurants to the area. The limited depictions of this property render what is becoming the typical turn of this century DC condo building style: a corner building with bay windows and pronounced corner bay. It looks passable, if not slightly awkward, though we'll wait to pass final judgment until construction is complete. Capitol Yards' 'Axiom' and 'Jefferson' are on track to be some of the first luxury rental properties to come online later this year. Boasting "an industrial, historical warehouse look" the architecture is uninspired and tired. Of the four buildings in the Capitol Yards development, only the '909' has head turning potential, and regrettably, this property, slated to open a year after the first two rental only properties,
is the only will be the first to feature retail. The representative couldn't offer a satisfying reason for this shortsightedness, but we assume that with the proximity to 395, it was assumed that new residents would head to Costco for their monthly provisions.

But we should be thankful for target completion dates in the '0's, I suppose, as most other projects had completion dates beyond 2010. Some of these were met with anticipation, such as Forest City's 'Waterfront' and 'The Yards' projects, both which seem to offer a vital mix of mixed use opportunities near the emerging Anacostia Waterfront communities. As does Monument Realty's Half Street, though it is perhaps the most blatantly poised developments to turn a forgotten and impoverished neighborhood on its head. One has to wonder what the effects will be on the residents nearby. In fact, with the exception of Poplar Point, there was little focus on development east of the river, and upstream (stay tuned for a future post on Poplar Point). There is, of course, the RFK site, which NCPC and DMPED seem to have conflicting notions for development with Fenty's recent announcement that he hopes to lure the Redskin's back to town. In fact the mix of bureaucracy certainly was apparent, with many of these proposed projects needing to work within frameworks established independently by NCPC and the DC government, and in some cases the NPS, though a recent land transfer has mitigated some potential headaches.

As a rower who understands the value of the river now, as well a native of Norfolk, VA, where the waterfront is embraced as a key element, and the waterways the life blood of the economy, I am fully supportive of the District's plans to finally focus on developing the waterfront. But of course this takes more than just dreamy watercolor renderings on glossy presentation boards. It takes big ideas, and it takes actions. So DC is to be applauded for hosting a community forum, that, by many accounts, seems to have exceeding expectations. I only hope that DC is listening to the needs that were less apparent in these glossy renderings; things such as the retail vital to support new residences and offices, mixed-income development and affordable housing, sustainable initiatives, and recognition of the various environmental and sporting groups that are utilizing the rivers today, and ensuring that these stewards have a place on tomorrow's river.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Green Watch: Counter Intelligence

For our very first installment of Green Watch we offer a look at new innovations in counter surfaces. While the current field of countertop options seems dominated by laminates, solid surfacing (including varieties such as Corian and Silestone), and granite (the top choice in high-end design), with the movement towards more environmentally conscious material choices, these frontrunners may soon find themselves loosing favor to more sustainable alternatives.

Gaining rapid appeal, especially among those desiring a clean, modern aesthetic, is concrete. Though not considered a true 'green' product, the benefits of concrete from a green standpoint are that it is made from all natural ingredients, without the harmful effects on the landscape as harvesting granite. However, be warned that concrete does have its downside -- its primary ingredients is Portland Cement, the manufacture of which produces greenhouse gases. So, should you go the concrete route, be sure that the mixture uses 30-50% fly ash (a harmless by-product of coal production). We can only imagine that innovation will arise to push the environmental envelope. In the interim, the good news is that, unlike most other countertop options, concrete can be entirely recycled, whereas with granite you can only be advised to make trivets.

While concrete, with its inherent durability, may seem like an obvious candidate for a counter surface, how about a material that seems unthinkable...perhaps paper? That's right, paper is emerging as a new surfacing material. Products such as PaperStone and Richlite are gaining a lot of attention in the market today, and was seen in several of the Solar Decathlon homes on the Mall this past summer. The former boasts up to 100% recycled content. And as it's nearly impervious to water and extremely scratch resistant, it is not only a viable option for countertops, but for a myriad of other uses as well, including toilet room partitions, thresholds and sills, signage, and rain screens. The latter was the first producer of hemp-based countertops, and, with its similar qualities to PaperStone, is also used for skate ramps, and various boating and aeronautical uses. In fact, both PaperStone and Richlite are even used as prep surfaces and cutting boards in commercial kitchens! Take note, however, that the heat resistance of both products does not exceed 350ยบ, so keep that new granite trivet handy!

Looking for a little sparkle in the kitchen? Then terrazzo might be the option for you. No longer just for floors, terrazzo is a beautiful option for counter tops. Today companies such as EnviroGLAS are producing terrazzo with recycled content. Along with offerings for flooring and landscaping, EnviroGLAS offers EnviroSLAB, which uses recycled glass bottles, mirrors, and plate glass, and offers the option to customize your countertop with your choice of glass and resin colors. The companies latest offering is EnviroMODE, a porcelain terrazzo made using recycled toilets, tubs, and sinks. Like PaperStone and Richlite, the green aspect come on the production side, as recycling of these surfaces is not a possibility, so choose a look that will last. But with these good looking options, we think that you should be happy for years to come.

For more information on these and other countertop options, as well as tips for greening your entire home, we recommend visiting And of course stay tuned to DesignCult for future Green Watch product!

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Elsewhere: News from around town...

Washington Post's Benjamin Forgey picks his favorite and least favorite buildings.

Mayor Fenty presents the Future of the DC Waterfront (NBC4)

DC of the Future: DCMetrocentric covers the History Channel's regional installment of their 'City of the Future' competition

Bleak DC: The Washington Post's coverage of the 'City of the Future' competition
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Saturday, January 12, 2008

ON THE SCENE: Meat Market Gallery

The modern art scene has blossomed in DC. Art openings turn into art parties where a diversity of social segments converge. These events draw a crowd not only for the innovative and highly conceptual work on display, but also for the chance to be part of a group who share a common excitement towards modern art in Washington. The Meat Market Gallery at 1636 17th Street, NW, is a leader in the pack that mixes experimentation, installation, and interactive art. The latest show, Intellectual Property, opened with an event combining high conceptualism art, an underground lounge, a graffiti covered backstairway, electro beats and cool kids to add to the eye candy. The space itself is the epitome of sleek. Stained steel plates are the floor and mimimalist "gallery" finished walls become the background. The storefront location allows for the art and the people to become the gallery's own advertising. A stairway to the basement bar and lounge is its own installation covered with line sketches, while the outside rear stair is riddled with luxe graffiti. Exposed brick walls in the downstairs lounge play in contrast with the high gloss cherry red lacquer of the bar. A visit to this gallery is an instant way to be energized by our modern city.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Finally "green" design is beginning to appear all around us; from Hybrid cars, restaurants supporting local organic and sustainable farms, interior finishes that are made of recycled or sustainable materials, and more LEED certified buildings. It has been difficult for the typical individual to have easy access to the materials and fixtures that allow for the "greening" of their own homes and offices. This is where Greater Goods on 1626 U Street, NW comes into play. Peer through the storefront and at first it might seem to be just another hardware store. Sure, you can buy shower heads, light bulbs, and cleaning supplies, but when you see that they are high pressure low flow shower heads, compact fluorescent light bulbs, and biodegradable cleaning supplies it is clear that this is not your typical store. While peering in the window, look up at the roof of the storefront, and you will see a "green" roof beginning to take root. Walk in and you will not only be greeted by Stella the friendly store mascot, but also by products that will cut your electric, water, and gas bills while looking modern, streamlined, and urban. These products are showcased on a system of shelves that are constructed out of sustainable materials and are built into a functional modular system for adaptability. The aesthetic comes off as a more simplified and "green" Charlotte Perriand, who also explored prefabrication and modular designs. This simple and useful design becomes a very hip setting for the goods. Bland and typically ugly fluorescent tube lighting on the ceiling is masked and made into a quick and inexpensive fixture by draping corrugated translucent plastic panels below. This store is a great example of how you can create an intelligent, functional and modern interior on a budget. It is all about low end costs and a high end product. I highly recommend everyone to check out this store and to go "green", because everyone is doing it.

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Most urban areas offer a large amount of options when it comes to food. DC is no exception. Lunch always plays an important part in anyone's day who happens to live, work, or play in town; power lunches, lunch breaks, the ladies who lunch, vending carts..... YES and now vending carts. Actually, SmartKarts, ergonomic and green (green in color and because they are battery operated) modern euro styled mini-trucks by Daimler-Chrysler have begun parking themselves on well trafficked downtown corners during lunch. The SmartKarts are their own best advertising. Super graphics, vivid color and funky design grab everyone's attention. Watching for twenty minutes on the street corner will prove this point. Drivers stop to oogle, business exec's rush over to order some of the best fast food that dc has seen yet, and urbanites and tourists come together to get a fresh, local, and fun bite to eat. Check out their funky website to find their locations, or stop by the corners of 8th and H and 7th and F streets to visit the first karts. I love living in a city that is not afraid to take on its own identity with new and innovative designs. Seeing the SmartKart in the midst of the Washingtonian downtown is exactly that. Their "ecovending" theme is changing the way DC lunches and it is well worth the trip to a SmartKart.
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