Local Reno Park Project

The Giant Circle at Fort Reno

tenleytown parks 1902

I found the 1910 Parks Commission Plan earlier. Now I’ve been able to find a higher resolution version of the plan, albeit a little different. This one is from the original, famous McMillan Commission report. Click the images to see the whole city.

This is the first time a park at Fort Reno was proposed. Here, it’s imagined as a much bigger circular park centered around the now obliterated, high point of DC. The Black-populated town at Fort Reno was still pretty small; the streetcar had only arrived a few years before. Similarly, you can see that the Chevy Chase Land Company had only begun to make forays into the District. 

The Nebraska Ave and Yuma street parkways are visible. You can see how large they wanted Soapstone Valley park to be, extending up to 38th Street. They also wanted to acquire the slopes of Broad Branch Valley. That would have linked up with Fort Reno, as part of the first iteration of Fort Drive.  Below is a map showing the rights-of-way for the 1897 Permanent Highway Plan and existing roads.  

Is there anything else you see?

tenleytown highway 1902

After the break, a GIF, a GIF, a GIF, I say, a comparative GIF! read more »

Architecture Russia

Soviet Brutalism: Centipede House

Brutalism’s proclivity for ostentatious grimness evokes something “Soviet” for Americans. But the movement never caught on in the USSR. Whatever it looks like, it didn’t square with the Party. British brutalism was bourgeois in its affected craftsmanship. Once America got to it, Brutalism was dangerously individualistic.

But, Soviet architects did flirt with the aesthetic when they were trying to show off before the 1980 Olympics. That’s when they gave their answer to the Unité D’Habitation.

The House of the Aviators on Begovaya Street, also known as the the House on Legs or the Centipede House, is absolutely Soviet and it’s absolutely inspired by Le Corbusier housing units. It’s built to very specific standards in different climate with a different construction industry from those buildings. They found a lot in the translation. read more »

Local planning

The 1970 study that said DC’s zoning is obsolete

In a post today on Greater Greater Washington, about the third delay of the Zoning Update, David Alpert and I mentioned a report from 1970 that called the 1958 zoning code outdated. 

That was in response to Mayor Gray’s announcement that the Zoning Commission would not close its records until September 2014, so we weren’t able to share as much as I wanted. Here’s more:

Barton-Aschman were hired by the pre-home-rule Walter Washington administration to examine the code after the MLK assassination riots, Urban Renewal, the Metro, and freeway revolt. Not all of their comments were negative, but the technocratic, autocentric attitude that ran through the 1958 process was nowhere to be found. 

These events had big impacts in the ideologies of the planning community. So, just 12 years after the code was passed, they saw a code that was plagued by assumptions that no longer applied and solutions that only seemed to make things worse:

A considerable number of provisions are archaic or substandard and need to be systematically reviewed and modernized. New techniques should be developed to accommodate changing market demand, technological advances, and new social conditions and programs.

Some things changed after this report was published. Parking minimums got lower. Much of the city was downzoned. Overlays were used to make custom tweaks. A more general PUD was introduced. And certain downtown zones became more open to residential uses, making it less of a nighttime wasteland.

Still, some of the ideas these planners found outdated in the Nixon years are still are at the root of the problems the city faces today.  read more »

Architecture Local

The Misfortune of Commodore Barry

The Commodore Barry monument in Franklin Square gets lost among the many dead generals of Washington. A timid notation of historical personage, it presents no case for relevance. It’s particularly sad because of what we could have had:

BarryMonument_sm

In 1906, an alliance of Irish-American groups decided they wanted a monument that would assert their participation in the founding myth of the United States. This had been denied; before 1700, the principal means of Irish immigration was through indentured servitude. The Irish, upwardly mobile and increasingly tired of their second-class ethnic status, were making a bid to become White.

The Ancient Order of Hibernians, a friendly society, saw the Revolutionary War naval hero John Barry as precisely the man to plug into the American foundation myth. The French had done it with Rochambeau and Lafayette. The Poles would do the same with Kościuszko, and the Germans with von Steuben

The Hibernians wanted the best, so they courted the judgement of stars: Daniel Burnham, Frank Millet, and Herbert Adams, among others. They had no idea what they were getting. read more »

Architecture

CFA Transcripts for the Eisenhower Memorial

I wrote an article on Medium dissecting the deceptive misquotations used by certain opponents of Frank Gehry’s design for the Eisenhower Memorial in order to discredit the Commission. What I particularly dislike is how they quote hard-to-find sources out of context.

So, I wanted to share a few of the key documents from the Commission of Fine Arts, sunshine being, I’m told, a good cleanser.

The Commission of Fine Arts consists of seven experts in art, design, and culture. Currently the composition is (in order of seniority) Earl Powell (art historian), Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk (architect and urban planner), Edwin Schlossberg (exhibit designer), Teresita Fernández (sculptor), Phil Freelon (architect), Alex Krieger (architect), Elizabeth Meyer (landscape architect).

Because the project has dragged on for so long, the composition of the Commission has changed significantly. In the course of the project, these people have also served on it: Pamela Nelson (artist), Diana Balmori (landscape architect), Michael McKinnell (architect), Witold Rybczynski (architecture critic),  and John Belle (preservation architect).

The Commission was created in 1910, but operates under a later law, the Shipstead-Luce act, which mandates its review of projects that would have an impact on Washington’s public spaces. Also coins. Generally speaking, they review design and have no constituencies. Unlike the NCPC, the meetings are unpredictable.

The Commission has approved the memorial concept twice, in 2011 and 2013. In 2011, a unanimous vote picked the preferred alternative. In 2013, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Phil Freelon, and Alex Krieger voted to approve the revised concept. Elizabeth Meyer dissented on the grounds that the landscape elements were insufficiently developed.

The CFA never formally asked Gehry to revise tapestry configuration. In fact Meyer criticized the public comments in February for being off-topic. The November and February reviews of the project were called specifically required to deal with the landscape elements Meyer identified. Powell, Fernández, and Schlossberg were absent.

So, here are the comments that have added so much fuel to the fire.

read more »

Architecture Drawing Russia

It’s full of stars…

redarmytheater_plan

Main floor plan, Central Academic Theater of the Red Army.

Moscow. Karo Alyabin and Vasiliy Simbirtsev, 1940.

Built specifically for propaganda spectacles, the theater included a ramp (top point of the star) for tanks and other military vehicles to join in the fun.

In Stalinist Architecture, one could never be too clear about the message.

Photos and text in Russian, here.

 

Architecture Local

Fort McNair – McKim, Mead & White, 1907

From Collected Works

 

Charles McKim really loved those boxy trees, didn’t he? Otherwise, a hidden gem.

Architecture

Precedents for the 11th Street Bridge Park

I’ve written up a post on the the 11th Street Bridge Park for Greater Greater Washington. It’s an exciting idea, but it’s important to slow down and consider what’s possible.

The Bridge Park is really more of an elevated park than a bridge. But its bridge-like form means it can be much more than just a deck with greenery. Since it’s elevated over water, it offers something special related to depth. Its section can go up into the sky and down into the water in ways that no other park can. No excavation is required, and people on the deck can interact with what’s below.

Since there is only one precedent for such a structure, the Providence Greenway, perhaps it’s worth looking a things that are typologically adjacent: bridges, linear parks, and buildings that address the water in noteworthy ways.

Bridges

The first kind of bridge that’s worth noting is one that carefully frames the intersection of the stream and a road. The Ponte Alexandre III is a well-known example. The columns have a practical purpose: their mass resists the forces collected by the bridge’s arch. How it’s composed makes it architecture: it’s a tetrapylon, a marker of the intersection of two equal routes.

Another interesting type is a bridge that’s asymmetrical along the axis of the flow. If you have a road, there typically are two directions of traffic. Each one is usually equal in value. A river, however, does have a direction: downstream, downhill. That by itself can be a source of impressive architectural effects – as how water rushes around bridge piers.

With symbolism, you get something very poetic. Otto Wagner’s Nussdorf bridge-wier seems to fight the force of the water coming down to it. Massive stone pylons, scrolling up against a sturdy truss, support columns topped by lions. The design expresses the strength of the flood protection it offered Vienna.

Linear Parks

In the article, I suggested that the High Line was an inappropriate comparison to the Bridge Park, because one is through dense neighborhoods, while the other is over a river. The level of activation influences the level of activity. The High Line has the luxury of limiting access to create a nice level of calm in the city. The Bridge Park will only ever have two entrances. 

But – James Corner: Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the designers of the High Line, made a few design decisions that are worth examining. For one, they distributed little spaces along the way that focus your attention on city life. Even the most jaded visitors end up gawking at the flow of traffic and people-watching.

Waterfront Buildings

At the ICA Boston, a museum on the outer harbor, DS+R turned guests’ attention to the horizon. Every space, like comfortable main porch to the disorienting research room, makes you look at the sky and the water with fresh eyes. 

ICA research room by michelvandenbogaard CC-BY-ND
There’s something surreal about water that’s as relentless as the sky. Take a look at James Turrell’s understanding of the sky. Could a basketball player understand what’s going on here:
Sure. We all know the sky and the water.
Plus, if you want to get beyond vision, steps down to the river, like at the Oslo Opera House might form an incredible amphitheater.
There are a lot of options for this park. I look forward to seeing what the designers come up with. What I think will be important, though, is looking for a designer who wants to relate the communities’ prosaic needs – like a play structure – to fundamentals that are so prosaic we’ve forgotten how wonderful they are.
Russia

L’VIV PUTIN ALONE

Some classmates of mine are living in L’viv right now. If you’ve been following the crisis in Ukraine, you might find their photo blog interesting: L’viv of Absence.

L’viv (Prounounced luh-VYU in Ukrainian and ul-VOV in Russian) has taken a staunchly nationalist outlook during this crisis. In general, as a part of Galitsia, it has historically tried to be more western and more independent of Russian influence. It’s also very nice, I hear!

Local planning

Is there an anti-Tregoning?

Recently on a few community boards, I’ve seen posts arguing whoever replaces Harriet Tregoning is obviously going to disavow “smart growth.” The problem is: where are they gonna find someone like this?

I’ve never met a professional planner who opposes the policies that constitute smart growth. Give or take a few things, what gets called “smart growth” is the standard approach of almost all urban planners. Despite Tregoning’s involvement in consolidating the agenda of Smart Growth, most of what she supports is the product of 50 years of empirical study of what makes cities work.

Outside of the mainstream, there are socialist and libertarian positions to urban planning. Their positions are significantly more radical than anything OP has proposed.

The topic is worth discussing, because today the Post endorsed Muriel Bowser for Mayor and the Mayor, Vince Gray, appointed Rosalynn Hughey as interim director of the Office of Planning. Whether she becomes permanent or steps down, OP will probably view the city’s problems from the same position Tregoning did.

Gray’s development policies were basically the same ones as Bowser’s mentor, Adrian Fenty. Fenty’s policies were really just versions of Tony Williams’ strategies, developed by Ellen McCarthy and Andy Altman. Tregoning wasn’t that different. She was just more upfront – and willing to be hated.

So there’s little threat that Tregoning’s policies will be rolled back under a revanchist OP. The best the intransigent opponents of development can hope for is spineless. If they truly believe that Tregoning sold out the city to developers, what do they think spineless will do?