DC architecture is known for being a little bland and generic. This reputation is not undeserved; there is something in the air since the early 20th century that has caused a stodgy vibe to persist like swamp gas over the city. Beaux-arts to glass-box, anywhere architecture has replaced the unique red city that was once gave DC a humble energy. In particular, the buildings of Adolph Cluss defined the aesthetic character of the city in a bright, practical way. Cluss’s South German heritage led him to design red brick buildings with vibrant decoration, like the Arts and Industries building, that differentiated DC from anywhere else in the country.
The firm of Esocoff & Associates has sort of picked up on his spirit, although they seem less interested in socialism than he. I remember in college returning home from Union Station, dreading the new, gray buildings or quasi-historicist schlock left over from the 90s, and driving down Mass Ave and being startled by the bright cobalt blue mullions of Post Massachusetts Avenue, surrounded by the warm umber brick. It took me a while to figure out who the firm was, and in that time they have built many more residential buildings that are post-modern in the best way, definitely reflecting contemporary values and modern construction, while being context-sensitive, humanistic, and unique. In particular, the Dumont’s sensual and explosive curves break the box with such bravado, it has stopped me on the street. Their handling of color and material is also fantastic.
They have repeated a distinctive style, sure, but haven’t exhausted its possibilities. I believe that their buildings will last as defining architecture of the period. I wish them the best of luck, because with time Esocoff could be come the new Cluss: an architect for the daily lives of the residents of the District of Columbia. God knows we need one.