For Adjaye’s libraries, seeing is believing

Among the new DC public libraries, the Bellevue and Francis Gregory branches east of the river have the strongest design. Without sacrificing functionality and accessibility, they put sophisticated works of architecture in historically underserved neighborhoods. But photos don’t tell the whole story. You have to go see them yourself.

Designed by British architect David Adjaye, who’s also designing the Museum of African American History, the libraries are a reminder that it’s possible for a work of world-class architecture to also be a comfortable third place.


Francis Gregory Library.

When the first renderings of the new libraries were published, I was unimpressed by them. But after a day-long excursion to see all of the libraries built under the tenure of library director Ginnie Cooper, I have to admit that I was surprised at how brilliant Bellevue and Francis Gregory are.

Learn more about DC architecture

The newest edition of the AIA Guide to the Architecture of Washington, DC has been published. This came as a surprise to me, since I bought the last edition just two months before the new one came out. Alas. The rate that the guides are reappearing has been shrinking by half. The Second Edition came out in 1974, Third in 1994, Fourth in 2006, and now Fifth in 2012, with guidebook singularity expected sometime in 2018. This may seem excessive, but it kind of makes sense. DC was losing buildings left and right in 1994, but between 2006 and 2012, DC has seen an unprecedented boom in high-end buildings. Flipping through my sad, obsolescent 4th edition, it’s clear there’s a lot missing.

For example, the 2006 guide has these inadequacies:

No, actually, there have been a lot of architecturally notable buildings built in DC over the past six years. Looking back, it’s kind of insane how much capital was invested in DC real estate. If you’re more interested, G. Martin Moeller, the author, was on Kojo Nnamdi’s show last week. The interview is worth listening to, if you’re unfamiliar with the guide. And the guide is definitely worth having and understandable to the laity.

At the end of the Mall, hope.



The six finalists for the design of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture have been revealed, with some very promising and also very disappointing results. There’s not nearly enough information available to see which is really the best building, so I picked the one that I think can be improved upon in a productive way. Remember as you are reading my thoughts that these are in the conceptual design phase, so the architects will be revising the buildings considerably even before the NCPC and CFA get around to prodding the architect for greater contextuality. 

I’ve ranked these in ascending order of quality and appropriateness and then got my buddy Sam Rothstein to handicap each one’s chance at selection. The images are linked to high-res versions on the Smithsonian site