Tag Archives: place

Architecture Local planning

AU’s Tenley Campus is Pinned to the Past

American University’s plan for the Washington College of Law not quite right. Designed to minimize conflicts in the short-term, the current plans are not the right kind of development for Tenleytown.

While AU continues to present its east campus plan before the Zoning Commission, they left out plans for the Law School campus at Tenley Circle, promising to submit them in August. But even with that deadline far off, it is possible to tell that the design is wrongheaded. The site is more urban and has more potential than the East Campus site, so it must be held to a higher standard.

Last year, when AU announced a plan to relocate the two blocks from the Tenleytown Metro and at the intersection of Wisconsin and Nebraska Avenues, the potential for progressive campus seemed overwhelming. As at East Campus, political expediency got in the way of good design. The plan is a recapitulation of suburban design principles hemmed in by unwarranted preservation concerns.


Site Plan as of June. Image courtesy AU.

What is good about the design is how it pairs the program to the site. The law school has a non-residential program, where faculty and students live off campus and commute to the school. Many maintain jobs downtown, requiring a direct link into the city, which the metro can provide. Bus lines in eight directions fill in the transit gaps including an express bus on Wisconsin Avenue, which received a TIGER grant for more improvements. It would be very easy to graduate without ever parking a car on local streets.

It is near two functional but underdeveloped commercial strips on Wisconsin Avenue. These have been struggling for years, although most storefronts are occupied as of July 2011. The project could energize the South Tenley and Tenleytown strips by creating a bridge of activity where there is now just a narrow sidewalk and an empty field. The project might add a few customers too, since most students don’t have a meal plan.


Change in lot coverage. Blue areas are new area, yellow is removed, gray is no change. Dark gray represents preserved buildings.

As of July, the designs do not meet of the location’s potential. AU asked the architects, SmithGroup, to mass the building in the footprints of the 1950s campus: objects in relation to each other, but not in relation to the city. As the ground plan has evolved, its forms have become more sophisticated, but its relationship to the streets has remained pinned to the footprints and the outdated ideologies that prescribed them. read more »

Reno Park Studies

Reno Park Update 100202: Old Names

I’m going to recap some of the analyses I did for Reno Park within the next week or so. After that, I will be getting into a historical analysis of the geography. For now, here is a broad map of historical names no longer used at the site. Names in red were designated organically or based on the farm tracts’ names, while names in blue were attempts to brand new developments.

historical names

Reno Park Studies Uncategorized

Reno Park Update 091212B: Finding Place

So in the last post, I pointed out that it was easiest to demonstrate that some location is a place by showing the density of people there. That’s what this map is. It’s an imprecise but useful tool to map and note the actual behaviors of pedestrians in the T-T area. I’ve made a point of making it blurry and gradated. There are not borders, so much as dips in circulation and public activity that result from the popularity of one area and the amount of effort pedestrians are willing to exert to get from one place to another.

Take, for example, Friendship Heights. Most people arrive by Metro or driving to the retail district. But within only two or blocks of that hub of activity, the circulation patterns change: there are fewer people and they are generally more local. The walkable distance matters more. It’s clear that the locality ends, even if it is slight and gradual.

The character of the architecture changes slightly as one travels south on Wisconsin. It’s shorter, somewhat dinkier. But at Fessenden Street, the entire block is suddenly small, two-story local retail. It looks like little to the north, but also seems slightly different from Tenleytown, up a steep hill to the south. Someone who lived a block to the south would feel like it might be part of Tenleytown, and someone who lives a block to the north might feel it’s Friendship Heights. This is hard to define; just like foot traffic, it comes in gradients. However, due to its higher pedestrian traffic, small public park, and consistent look, I would argue it is effectively a between-place. So let me show you what I’ve come up with:

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Local Reno Park Studies Uncategorized

Reno Park Update 091212A: Finding Activity

Okay, so I mentioned in the last post that neighborhoods, as conventionally defined, are not necessarily the best ways of measuring human activity, and so is the difficult concept of community. However I attempt to define such a thing, it’s going to be imprecise, subjective, and doubtful. But most people can recognize  community when they see it. Likewise, when you look a good space, you can tell because of the people there.

Last year, when I was but beginning my job as an apparatchik of the цarьchitect, I quoted Freddy N. in On The Geneology of Morals:

Only owing to the seduction of language (and the fundamental errors of reason petrified within it) which conceives all effects as conditioned by something that causes effects, by a “subject,” can it appear otherwise. For just as the popular mind separates the lighting from its flash and takes the latter for an action, for the operation of a subject called lightning, so popular morality also separates strength from expressions of strength, as if there were an neutral substratum behind the strong man, which was free to express strength or not to do so. But there is no such substratum, there is no being behind doing, effecting, becoming; “the doer” is merely the fiction added to the deed – the deed is everything.

Now, replace “strength” with “community.” Community is, in essence, an act. It is not merely your sheer propinquity to another human meatbag, nor crude ethnic similarities, it is the action to do like others, to help the person nearby, to talk to them, to smile at the man on the street when he says hello. Community, is an cooperative action between people, in the conscious and subconscious, of coming together and working for each other’s values. Why one might associate with one another, and care for them is a wholly different question. But it is relatively easy to see evidence of community, just as it is possible to see evidence of social activity.

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Reno Park Studies

Reno Park Update 091206: Bad Names

So neighborhoods. The issue of neighborhoods is not a small issue here at цarьchitect, so I want to explore how the nominal neighborhoods in DC, are relatively arbitrary. Whereas Cleveland Park is a coherent collection of period houses clustered around the summer home of our favorite philandering and mustachioed head of state. The same is relatively true of Chevy Chase. But other areas, such as AU Park or Tobago lack legible borders, character, nodes, or strong community sentiment. With these flaws in mind, I asked the internet where neighborhoods began and ended. For example, Wikipedia:

wiki neighborhoods

As you can see, there are some flaws to this map – some areas aren’t exactly stuck into boxes and others are claimed by two neighborhoods. Moreover, Tenleytown has, maybe, 100 residents and its borders rest, like the ANCs, along corridors where there is precisely the most activity, along Wisconsin. It also perpetuates the myth that there is a neighborhood called “Wakefield.” The name is a myth created by realtors, and you will not find anyone who actually calls it that, except perhaps some serpent or monster who wishes only to deceive you. . Clearly, it’s totally unsatisfactory. So, based on an informal poll and my own views, I’ve revised it:

formal neighborhoods

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Local Reno Park Project

When a concert isn’t just that

reno-concert-1

Last night began week five of this summer’s Fort Reno concerts. The annual series of musical triptychs, which take place in an improvised venue in the Tenleytown park, may be the most urbane happening of any place in DC. Amid the mild yellow-orange light of a summer evening, a small local band plays and a few hundred people of various ages watch while they sit on the grass. But beyond that and behind the stage, those less interested in the concert partake in all kinds of leisurely activity. Really, I’ve never seen the park so well used. read more »