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
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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 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

“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,, 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

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

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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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