New St. Thomas Church Looks Good

I hadn’t heard much news about the new sanctuary in a while, but I came across this video, and the design looks great. The project has definitely improved since I last looked over it in 2010. The architect, Auraform, seems to be using materials very deliberately, so it will be interesting to see how those choices produce and affect and carry the design.

I am particularly fond of the way the roof overhang at the entrance relates to the cross, as a both a sign and as a part of the composition. The visceral handling of the ruins of the old church, towards the end of the video, is certainly reminiscent of Zumthor’s Kolumba Art Museum, with attached exterior windows that owe a lot to Sigurd Lewerentz‘s St. Peter’s, Klippan.  There’s a lot going on in the building.

DC has recently gained a strong set of  exceptional modern churches, of which this building will certainly be one. Jarvis, at least, worked for well-published hermitect Peter Zumthor and the less reclusive local rising  star, David Jameson.


Details, Details: Light & Shadow

white brick

A lot of architectural design deals with modifying light and shadows to make an interesting form. For example, the moulding on a neoclassical building is designed to create a specific shadow profile. Meanwhile, glass buildings tend to play with reflections. But you don’t see much of them together, like you do here.

Details, Details: Georgetown Stable

Just across Cady’s Alley from the Ukranian Embassy is a little building that I assume served as stables until the 20th century. On the wall are these two equine tondi.


It’s simple, humble ornament that conveys the function of the building. With a little humor, it almost suggests that the horses are popping their somber heads out to have a look around.

Forest Glen Seminary: One Thing Leads to Another

Part two of a four-part essay exploring context, typology, and interpretation. Comments encouraged.


Against rich complexity of the old Seminary, the houses designed by EYA are then a real letdown. They carry the superficial veneer of “context” that is endemic to New Urbanist planning and its most visible error. To be clear, they are not abominations, but they are dull and only stylistically similar to the outré conglomeration across the street. The application of traditional elements here fulfills a requirement that new buildings  respect the architecture of the historic landmark. Okay, sure, sounds good, but the legislation is fairly scant in the details of execution. The easy option, a cynical abdication of artistic responsibility, is to copy the notions of form in hazy facsimile and slap it on off-the-shelf buildings. Even where the designs are competent, the lack of sensitivity results in tepid mediocrity.

Forest Glen Seminary: Into the Woods

Part one of a four-part essay exploring context, typology, and interpretation. Comments encouraged.

Classicism at its horniest

Hidden among a leafy scattering of houses and trees, Forest Glen Seminary is a jumble of vernacular buildings unlike any of the temples of boxes that define Washington. Its buildings, both magnificent and ludicrous amount to a dignified campiness that defies expectations to be one of the most profoundly interesting places encircled by the Beltway. Once constituting a women’s college when that meant a two-year Mrs. degree, the buildings are once again becoming domestic space, the more private areas cut into condos and the core of the complex, rental units. Scattered around the area, turn-of-the-century houses are being renovated and new housing by the urbanist developer EYA has just been finished. Through the site’s history, radical changes have shaped its form, but none so radical as the current shift in context.

Fort Reno project 090424: Topography

So I want to study the park with as much detail as possible. I’ve been spending a lot of time there just observing, which is always the cornerstone of good design, but I’ve also been trying to understand the area objectively. Logically, the place to start is with the ground, so here is a topographic map I’ve put together.

Topographic maps represent altitude using lines called contours. The closer contours are to each other, the steeper the slope, the further, the flatter. The contours start here at 62m and end at 130m.

After the fold, there are other, cooler maps that show height using shading.