Tobago, DC

I grew up east of Ft. Reno Park, in what I thought was called North Cleveland Park. I always felt that the neighborhood was a little dull and lacking community, like it really wasn’t a neighborhood. This sense was borne out when my parent’s realtor confessed that he had no idea what it was called. Now, Wikipedia claims there is a difference between North Cleveland Park, south of Albermarle St. and Wakefield to the north of it. Wakefield? Damnit, no! I’m calling it Tobago.

Map around Ft. Reno Park
You know, because there's already a Trinidad somewhere else in the city... Via DC GIS.

I am not joking at all; I want this to happen. There is no reason why we should stick with a real estate name that nobody knows. A funny name is precisely what DC needs.

From an urban design standpoint, this parodies itself!

The bad economy is hitting local governments hard, so construction plans, like building a new library in central Silver spring points to the sale of a historic skybridge from Minneapolis on craigslist. Might be a good opportunity for Maryland to save a few bucks. Only $79,500. Tip via Curbed,

From an urban design standpoint, the sale of this parodies itself!

A Metrorail 20-year plan.

A lot of people have gotten in the game of designing personal opinions on the expansion of Metrorail. Greater Greater Washington’s Fantasy map is probably the best, so much so as to actually be used by WMATA, but I thought I’d try my hand at it too. The long-needed Blue Line split in particular merits attention, so here’s my suggestion for that bit. 


More explanation after the break…

Does it matter if it’s pretty?

I’ve been glancing over the National Capital Planning Commission’s National Capital Framework Plan. While it contains many fantastic ideas of how to preserve the character of the monumental core while allowing development of many more sites for Federal offices and mixed uses. Its use of commercial corridors punctuated by monuments creates a strong aesthetic of government in a living city. However, it tolerates some of the looming office buildings more than others in a predictably traditionalist way, forgetting the urban conditions along the way.
Most conspicuously, in talking about the Federal Triangle buildings, it recognizes that the large single-use buildings with only a few useful entrances and no storefronts deaden the area, even during the day. However, it calls for the demolition of The J. Edgar Hoover building to revitalize the city and not, say, the Herbert Hoover building. In the case of the former, the brutalist headquarters of the FBI, they mention that the use of “International Style” plainness makes it look like a fortress, but on the same page they heap praise on the traditional buildings as being dignified and vibrant. 
The problem with the argument presented here is quite simple: two styles of architecture that address the street in virtually identical ways are seen as completely different. Both are set back from the street, both have distant, cold windows with hard walls and high gates keeping members of the public out. If you are still in a prison, does it matter if the bars are gold or not? In this case, the staid taste of the Washington architectural establishment is simply bashing a style it doesn’t like. 
Maybe it just needs lipstick and stockings?
Maybe it just needs lipstick and stockings?
They’re all monumental structures which you can’t group together with good results. Yet the prettier ones get away with it, offering a a pleasant background that ultimately hides the major flaws in the building. I won’t claim this isn’t a problem in modern architecture, but I have picked up a trend where Beaux-arts buildings in particular are forgiven of their damage to the fabric of a city because they are beautiful superficially. Modernist buildings are rightly criticized for their blank façades and monolithic use, however, even as “Storefronts!” becomes the rallying cry of urban planning, many praise functionally blank buildings for looking like buildings that work. When they turn to attack buildings of identical typology, it is generally because of a modern look, not because of a city interface issue. 
It takes a more nuanced understanding of the form of a city to realize that a city needs buildings that are part of a fabric, as well as ones that punctuate the fabric. Unfortunately, the judgement of that design is stuck behind shallow observations and a pathological hatred for modern architecture. The NCPC’s report aims to undo many of the sterilizing effects of the McMillan Plan, but it will never manage to mitigate some of the effects. I can only hope that they eschew monolithic districts and give all kinds of architecture a fair shake
Sometime later I’ll talk more about the symbolism of using imperial architecture for bureaucracies, but that’s a different deal.