Tag Archives: historic architecture

Local planning

DC HPO says the Tenley Campus is a District

The Historic Preservation Office has released their recommendations for the Tenley Campus ahead of this Thursday, the 27th’s, HPRB hearing. In an unusual decision, they have advised the HPRB to approve the current design, and also to declare the entire campus as a historic district. The Tenleytown Historical Society’s nomination did not ask for an all-encompassing district, but rather a single landmark designation for the entire campus. Their reasoning:

Guidance provided by the National Register suggests that campuses should generally be considered districts, although there are smaller campuses that consist of little more than a central building or two and surrounding space. In the present instance, a district better accommodates the different origins and ages of the major contributing elements of Immaculata, in a manner similar to the often varied neighborhood historic districts.

I find this reasoning plausible at face value. It’s also not unprecedented.  Gallaudet’s campus is a historic district, and Georgetown University may be. The details are more complicated, however. Gallaudet’s district covers much more territory and more historic buildings. Other, similarly sized properties that are not schools have been named landmarks. Indeed, the district only includes three-and-a-half buildings:

The historic district should be designated with the following three buildings considered to contribute to its historic character: the original Immaculata Seminary, i.e., [the 1904] Capital Hall, including its 1921 rear wing; the 1921 Chapel; and Dunblane. The three 1955 buildings should be considered non-contributing, as beyond the campus’s period of significance and representing a phase of school expansion distinctly different architecturally and functionally from the founding era. The 1921 garage should also be considered non-contributing because an addition has considerably altered it and diminished its integrity, nearly doubling its size and closing its original vehicular openings. The sense of clustering campus buildings surrounded by and enclosing landscape, as well as the site’s traditional orientation of, and relationship between, buildings should also be maintained and preserved

Dunblane has been renovated multiple times and burned once. It is unrecognizable from whatever form it may have had. I am fine with leaving a form or mark on the campus, but there is no reason to preserve the building itself if the equally altered garage can go.

I do not necessarily understand why they chose this designation.  I have some conjectures:

  1. It is the result of negotiations between AU and the other parties.  A district designation would most likely preserve the rear green space in perpetuity, but give some design flexibility to AU.
  2. This gives the HPRB more latitude in deciding what happens to the property.
  3. It is easier to justify a district designation than a full landmark designation, given the historic resources.

I do not know the minds of the HPO, but I hope that the reasons for the designation are closely interrogated before the HPRB makes a decision.

As seen in the images, AU recently revised their plans to include a  common area at the front of the building, released a traffic report, and also revealed a much-improved (planometrically) North Hall. Both images courtesy AU. 

 

 

Local planning

AU’s plans for Tenleytown up for debate

Tenley Campus on a sunny day

American University is developing their 2011 campus plan, which will guide growth for the next decade.In effect, the plan is also an understanding between the neighborhood and the university about what the part of the city they share should look like in 2020 – and 2060.

In addition to some new buildings on campus AU proposes two major changes: First, the university would erect several buildings on some underused parking lots near campus, which I’ll discuss in a later article. The second proposal would relocate the growing Washington College of Law to the Tenley Campus, a facility between Yuma and Warren streets on Wisconsin Avenue at Tenley Circle.

In the abstract, the relocation should benefit the neighborhood and bring more life to the southern part of Tenleytown. The current location of the school is in an autocentric and distant office park on Massachusetts Avenue, a poor location for a professional campus. However, whether the new building benefits or burdens the community will depend on the quality of its execution and the policies with which the administration operates the school.

Currently, around 800 students live on the Tenley Campus, most of them taking part in the Washington Semester program. They occupy a buildings built for the former Immaculata School, which American purchased in 1987. A handful of those structures are designated landmarks, which AU will preserve; others are forgettable midcentury structures, which AU will demolish to handle the 2,500 students and faculty of the law school.

The site has tremendous potential to make Upper Northwest more walkable and more sustainable. Moving the law school closer to the Tenleytown-AU metro station will reduce the net amount of traffic along Nebraska and Massachusetts Avenues. To get to the current law school building, students and faculty can either drive to the generous parking garage, or take the AU shuttle from Tenleytown.

That access to the Tenleytown metro is especially important to these law students, because most live outside the neighborhood and merely commute in for the school day. Likewise, the Immaculata campus sits right on several bus lines — and a potential streetcar line — that will receive efficiency improvements through TIGER Grants.

As a side benefit, the new school would put more foot traffic along the southern block of Tenleytown’s retail area. The current shuttle buses isolates students from neighbors; the three-block walk down Wisconsin would put them face-to face on the main strip. The steady stream of students and faculty would patronize stores and restaurants and justify streetscape improvements that will make Tenleytown nicer for everyone.

On Nebraska Avenue, a well-designed campus would significantly improve the urban architecture of one of DC’s monumental boulevards. Against the other streets, a good architect would be able to make the building disappear into the trees that line the perimeter of the campus. Because the university has no plans or even a design architect yet, the possibilities for integrating the school into the neighborhood are vast. The campus plan is the right opportunity to ask for them.

For all of the potential benefits, the College of Law could still hurt the neighborhood. American could ask for an introverted suburban campus and receive an eyesore and a traffic nightmare. The negotiation between the ANC and the university administration will allow for specific terms of approval to be stated. Design guidelines, operations requirements, and community benefits can be spelled out ahead of time to ensure that both sides gain from the construction and trust is not broken.

American University’s plan is good at first glance. Whether it is good for the next fifty years will depend on how well residents and the university work together to make a lasting improvement to the city.

Cross-posted on Greater Greater Washington.

Architecture Local Writing

A Look at the Janney Expansion

Janney Rendering 1 SE_09 SMALL

I finally got some images of the proposed Janney School extension. I like it – but it could have been better. With a few objections, I like its conception. Devrouax + Purnell, best known for the Washington Convention Center, the Pepco Building, and Nationals Park, here produced an interesting and attractive school building. However, the location where they have chosen to place the wing results in a lost opportunity for Janney and the community in general. Like too many developers and architects, they approached Tenleytown planning to not upset the status quo. However, any public facility should be designed with an eye to the future – and the current state of Tenleytown cannot last.

The building steps down.

Beginning with the generous setback along 42nd street, the architects attempted to hide the building as much as possible, so as not to intrude on the neighborhood. Although the Albemarle façade extends to the cornice line of the 1923 building, the masses of the building gently diminish into a low white structure that encloses the gym. Moving south along the western face, the building curves gently, from a tower to the first private residence down the block. The architects employed the shape subtly, repeating the curve in each mass to limit its effects. It does successfully integrate into the site.

However, this hesitant approach is not appropriate here. The architects should not have set the building back from the street so much. In doing so, they have reduced the feeling of enclosure afforded by a consistent streetwall, produced an marginally useful green space, and missed an opportunity to relocate the playing field at the center of the Tenley Library Public-Private Partnership debacle.

JES_Design_Schematic_20091110-1 SMALL

For the 2007 plan to build a library with several floors of condominiums on top focused on the loss of recreation space (the rightmost field in the image above) for Janney Students. Some of that space would be consumed in the footprint of the condominium structure. However, had the architects located the new wing closer to the property line, they might have opened up space to relocate the eastern soccer field. In a political environment as vicious as Tenleytown’s, a mutually agreeable solution would have been a rare happy ending.

That lost opportunity is my main complaint – but there’s much more review below.

read more »

Reno Park Studies

Reno Park Update 091125A: Preservation / PUD

Two small additions to the analysis of zoning regulation. First are PUDs. PUD stands for Planned-Unit Development. In a PUD, a developer negotiates with community representatives, offering certain amenities to the public in exchange for some reprieve from aspects of Zoning Codes. There are four PUD structures (in red) here: Van Ness Station, the Saratoga, Friendship Center, and Mazza Galerie.

PUDs

The other major legal framework is the landmarking system. There are a handful of landmarks (red), the Grant Road Historic District (blue), and the not-landmarked-but-sensitive Fort Drive area (yellow). The master plan will have to harmonize with the legal strictures imposed by them.

landmarks

Local

Small-Town Politics: Everything but Safeway

The Current covered the November 5th ANC 3E meeting, but it’s worth discussing it in a format that’s indexed by Google – and one that doesn’t use two inflammatory headlines for one ANC meeting. Hyperbole is something that can only be applied to Zoning Commission cage fights. Speaking of which, the obvious topic of the night was the Tenleytown Safeway, but like any good spectacle, that discussion came only after a long development. Actually, the debate over Safeway’s PUD was so long that I’m going to put it up as another post tomorrow.

After the crime report and some perfunctory zoning adjustments, a manager at Maggiano’s in Friendship Heights discussed their mandatory re-application for valet parking. The loss of parking is one of DC’s bugaboos, but he assuaged the concerns with cold, hard facts about where they park. Friendship Heights’ traffic is particularly bad and people from nearby neighborhoods complain about visitors parking in along the narrow streets to the east. So it was a huge surprise to learn that the garage under that block is largely empty most of the time. That suggests that most people will take the stress of driving around Jenifer Street over paying to store their cars, have parked in one of the other garages, or that a good number of the shoppers crowding the streets have arrived on transit. It definitely requires further study. The application was approved, and they moved on to the Reno School.

Jane Maroney, the newly elected Deal PTA chair spoke on behalf of the school in regard to the future of the Jesse Reno School. She explained Deal’s intents for the building in general: that it will be used as a performing arts facility and school nursery that could double as public meeting location. Apparently the two major goals are to keep the main building secure at night and reserve the dulcet tones of the band for infants who will only remember the experience subconsciously.

The blocked archway became a source of contention.
The Reno School. The blocked archway above was a source of contention.

The Jesse Reno building is unquestionably a historic structure, so the debate came down to whether to landmark it now and then renovate, or to renovate and then landmark it. Either way, renovations have to undergo Historic Preservation review because the structure was built in 1903. Deal received money from the city to renovate it, but hasn’t yet hired an architect. Board Member Waldmann of the Tenleytown Historical Society explained a little about its history as a segregated school and the lone survivor of the town of Reno, but her justification for why landmarking was so essential with everyone on board could only be justified with shadows of reckless demolitions during Barry years, so eventually the board voted 3-2 against the nomination. Oddly, the Bender-Frumin-Serebin and Eldredge-Sklover split is the same way they voted on the Janney application.

So, that was the lesser part of the meeting. The rest comes tomorrow.

Architecture Theory Writing

Forest Glen Seminary: An Unintentional Project

So, it’s been a while, right? Well sometimes you get stuck and you just have to back away from the block. If you’ve fortgotten the previous installments, they’re here, and here. One more will follow in about a week. Alright.

back-from-condo

But from the enormous source material of the existing buildings, the Alexander Company took what opportunities it had and exploited them into a quiet celebration of the specific context. The original buildings, despite their conversion to a warren of private apartments and condominiums, have kept of their idiosyncrasies. In spite of sparkling new halogen lights and granite countertops, the apartments retain the unique elements that make the buildings meaningful to residents. read more »

Details

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.

gtown-horses

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.