Tuesday, July 29, 2008

NBM to Continue the DC Height Act Dialogue

Back in December we discussed the DC Height Limit in a post DC: A Storied Future. We found the topic of DC's Height Limit, as prescribed by the Height Act of 1910, to be of interest to many. And since attendance at the DCBIA discussion, which prompted our discussion of the Height Act, we have noticed the issue being raise in a variety of forums, such as the potential for greater height or density for new developments such as Poplar Point, as well as in the recent Witold Rybczynski lecture at the National Building Museum on May 13th, where the architecture author and critic had a hard time convincing us that revising the Height Act would be a bad idea (stating, "if it's not broken, don't fix it", but then later agreeing that a more undulating, visually interesting skyline is an appealing notion for this horizontal city). We are therefore pleased to see that NBM is continuing this discussion on September 24th with DC Builds: How High to Build? (6:30 – 8 pm). Moderated by Mary Fitch, AICP, Hon. AIA, Executive Director, AIA|DC, panelists Thomas Luebke (Secretary, US Commission of Fine Arts), Christopher Leinberger (Brookings Institution Visiting Fellow), and Whayne Quinn (Holland & Knight, LLP) will debate the pros and cons of revising this almost century old act.

$12 Museum members and students; $20 nonmembers. Prepaid registration is required.
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Monday, July 28, 2008

Modernism In Your Neighborhood : Columbia Heights

Modernism appears in places where you would least expect it. This happening gives neighborhoods a special spark of interest. This example appears on the block directly behind the new Target store in Columbia Heights. The block is a quiet one, lined with a grid of varied classic townhouse typologies. A row of simple 1920's two story porch front federals anchors one side, while mid-sized Victorian walk-ups are on the other. Tall trees soften the block of varied rooflines and jagged angled bayfronts. Slammed in between all of these variations on the block is a brand new townhouse scaled condo building. Its large bay cantilevers over the street front. Its overscaled glazing makes this dominating element reflect the trees, giving it more transparency. It's reflections allow it to blend with the surroundings. It is a simple design that uses the odd angles of the lot and surrounding buildings to it's advantage. This is what gives the architecture it's dynamism. The roofline thrusts outwards to give a dramatic overhang. This is a play off of the neighboring buildings' prominent cornice lines. It is still a very modern aesthetic for a classic block, but by taking cues from the historic architectures, it respects the existing history while exuding a contrasting modernism in it's own right.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

A Sweet Tooth for Design

If you are looking for a quick sugar fix topped off with slick design, hop on over to the newly opened TangySweet (P Street near 21st Street, NW). Designed by Washington-based KUBE Architecture, the space, much like the tasty treat served, is colorful, refreshing, and not overly complicated.

Upon entry (once the line is short enough that you have emerged into this oft-packed space) you will almost immediately notice the color-changing light features-cum-standing height tables. Described by the architects as "woven light" which "introduce the fresh colors and flavors of the yogurt and fruit toppings", these elements embrace, rather than defy, the low-light nature of this lower-level space in a pleasing way. For customers wanting to sit and relax there is a small seating area, opposite the cantilevered, LED enhanced tables, dubbed the "yogurt lounge". In fact the entire space, which employs energy-efficient lighting and sustainable materials, feels like a lounge -- one would almost be inclined to order a mojito or cosmo (perhaps future flavor offerings?) --but for now you'll have to indulge in a 'well-dressed' yogurt or smoothie.
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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Modern Update : Existing Office Buildings

The general trend with updating old and dated office buildings within the District has been to clad everything in glass. We covered this issue in a previous post and you can read how we think this can be both a positive and a negative thing to do. One building in particular along the 1100 block of 16th Street, NW took a different approach with it's modernizations. The original building was a semi-interesting mid-century modern structure. The majority of the facade was placed in a frame containing ribbon windows and a metal cladding banding horizontally between the windows. Instead of ripping the facade to shreds and facing it entirely with a monotonous glass system, the horizontal bands were maintained, but the metal spandrels were re-clad. The were panelized with a very simple, yet elegant oversized weaving system of panels. Each metal panel is slightly etched with another interlocking design to continue the theme. The theme is strong yet not overplayed. The woven facade gives a more delicate association to the heavy material. A new canopy entrance also brings the building up to date. The brilliant red geometric sliver gestures to the street, pulling the passerby in towards the building. It is pierced overhead by a roof system of steel structure and glass. These two elements play off of each other in a juxtaposition of vertical and horizontal massings. The red wall slopes into the glass elevation of the lobby and continues inside following the lobby wall. This is a nice connection between the exterior and the interior architectures. The lobby is a simple space where the walls seem to pierce the ceiling plane and are lit at this connection. The round columns are clad in an energetic mosaic tile in black with pink specs. This building has successfully been reborn. It's original features were not obliterated, but rethought and celebrated. Texture, color, patterning and materiality are what make this one stand out on the streetscape.
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Sunday, July 6, 2008

Modernism In Your Neighborhood : Floor Add-Ons

There are still many pockets within the city limits of the District that are exempt from historic preservation review boards. This fact does not mean that any designer should not take the history and the existing context into consideration when designing additions or new buildings in these areas. It does not mean that a free-for-all is appropriate or even the most simply "slapped on" addition will do the trick. The triangular shaped block along Florida Ave. and 10th Streets NW in the Shaw neighborhood has several examples where existing townhouses have been added onto with an entire new third floor. One of the following four examples is a totally new building anchoring both of these blocks on the pointed end of the irregular shaped block. The block of 10th Street has a continuous row of very simple historic Federal front townhouses. These buildings are very narrow and were never intended to have a strong and dominating street presence. One of the houses is in the process of being added onto with a full third floor addition. It is obvious that everything seems to be a disaster here by the Stop Work signs in the windows. The existing cornice brick work which ties the entire block together, has been eradicated. Concrete block is placed on top of the existing brick wall and two new windows are placed in the wall. The windows relate to nothing of the existing proportions and the new height of the floor is completely disproportionate to the existing two floors. Everything that was significant about this house has been destroyed. This is an example of exactly what NOT to EVER do to your townhouse. On the Florida Avenue side of the block, a similar Federal front townhouse has been added onto as well. A full third floor was added, but from the front elevation, it was set back several feet. This separation allows for the original brick cornice line of the block to continue and not break up the simple rhythm of the street. It is clad in a completely difference material, horizontal wood cladding, which helps play down the new verticality. The rear of the house is where the great modern design comes in to play. Large amounts of glazing open up the interior of this narrow and now tall house. The significant historical aspects of this house were kept intact, and the new modern addition plays with the scale and adds a fantastic new architecture to the existing. The new and the old respect each other and compliment each other in the composition. A wider version of these Federal fronts is located on the 10th Street side. The original detailing has been restored and is celebrated with a contrasting color scheme. An entirely new third floor has been added. The proportions of the new windows keeps to the original scheme as does the surrounding brick work. The unfortunate part of this addition is the scale and massing. The massing of the new floor is way too tall compared to the existing floor heights. This condition make it feel extremely top heavy. The new floor has no formal cornice. If the new roofline somehow played with the original design of the cornice, the verticality would have been somewhat diminished, mitigating the top-heavy feeling. Still, the massing was totally an afterthought and has once again ruined the compatibility and composition of the new and old. The final building on this block is a new structure which occupies the triangular lot at the intersections of Florida Ave. and 10th Street. The massing is taller than the existing two rows of townhouses it backs up to, but on a typical city block, the concept of "bookending" is contextually typical. A taller and more massive building on the ends of the block can be a nice design element to any neighborhood. This townhouse picks up on the existing scales and proportions of its historic neighbors. The fenestration of punched openings works well with the existing facades. Towards the point of the lot, bays project from the angle of the street to hint at the dynamic intersection of both streets. These bays are constructed of glass and steel storefront systems which make them more delicate and more transparent. This creates an element of interest but keeps down the perception of heavy massing. This house is a great blend of modern elements and historic elements. Dynamic modern architecture sympathetic to the historic context is always a welcome addition to the block.

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Next Time, Have a Little Style with your Coffee!

For those of us that admit that we once found Starbucks exciting and stylish, no doubt in this era of coffeehouse giant world domination we are now finding the chain store a little hard to swallow. No doubt this is why the coffee chain introduced its Pike Place Blend this spring, signaling a return to basics and trying to lure coffee drinkers back. And back in February Starbucks closed over 7,000 stores for several hours to retrain baristas. Reports suggest, however, that the tactics aren't working, and patrons are becoming disenfranchised. If you count yourself among those for whom Starbucks has lost its allure, perhaps there's no better time to try some of the areas less frequented shops.

Illy is not a new name in the coffee world, and especially for anyone who has traveled abroad, the name is recognizable. But what you may not know is that the first Illy Cafe location opened up right here in Washington, DC -- a year ago in fact -- and has become a welcome respite from its prevalent counterpart. But in addition to serving up an authentic cappuccino (what us self-avowed coffee connoisseurs have to order 'dry' at Starbucks), Illy's West End 'Caffe' also serves up great design. And this is in no small part due to the company's philosophy for it's shops, what it characterizes as "the art of the Italian café culture". The company even refers to the role that architecture plays in their corporate branding on their website. And though small, the cafe, located at 1143 New Hampshire Ave NW (adjoined to the Marriott Renaissance), is big on style.

For those in search of coffee with a local flavor, Mayorga Coffee might just be what your craving. The Maryland based company offers up a handful of locations in the area, including the welcome addition to the Columbia Heights neighborhood in the Tivoli Theatre building (3303 14th Street, NW). Dedicated to sustainable growing methods and positive support of its growers, Mayorga's coffee can leave you feeling warm and fuzzy in more ways than one.
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