The Blogger Beat: DC Metrocentric

In this week’s Blogger Beat, we take a crash course in architecture and real-estate development with DC Metrocentric blogger James Hickman.

By: Emily Leaman

James Hickman started the blog DC Metrocentric two years ago “with the intention of being the Wonkette of DC’s architecture and development set.” Did he succeed? Well, the 100,000 people who read his blog last month seem to think he’s on to something.

Hickman draws from a deep well of contributors and tipsters to keep the blog up to date on local development—and he reports on all the gossip and speculation that goes along with it: “People are always wondering what the new building going in across the street is going to be,” he says. “Our site tells you why it’s going to be awful or awesome.”

We caught up with Hickman to dish and rag on his favorite subject. Read on to find out his picks for the best and worst neighborhoods to buy in, the building with the best roof deck, and the most overhyped condo building on the books.

Favorite neighborhood:
“Shaw for going out, Near Southeast for baseball, Georgetown for its history, the West End for its restaurants. . . . I could go on forever.”

Favorite home store:
“Container Store. Who doesn’t need more storage?”

Best up-and-coming neighborhood to buy in right now:
“It’s a tossup between Anacostia and Petworth. Both areas are undergoing major demographic changes, but the sheer volume of great-looking older houses that can be had for a bargain, combined with the many new neighborhood amenities currently being built make both places attractive right now.”

Worst neighborhood to buy in right now:
“Around the new Nationals stadium—Near Southeast—only because the majority of places are new cookie-cutter condos with a lot of style but not much substance. Also, I wouldn’t want to try and take the Metro when it’s a game day!”

Local building most in need of a facelift:
“Even though it’s new, the headquarters for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on New York Avenue, Northeast, could stand for a little work. Given the amount of development in that area and its proximity to a Metro station, they need to tear down those ‘decorative’ barrier walls that make the place look like a fortress and add more street-facing retail.”

Finish this sentence: “If I could name a street in DC, it would be called . . .”
“. . . C-SPANISTAN Avenue. It would only be used for official parades and other DC events that typically shut down our city’s streets and add to the already horrendous traffic.”

Building with the best roof deck:
“In terms of large residential buildings, the roof of the Senate Square apartments at Second and I streets, Northeast, has great views and a pool. But probably the best decks are on private residences like this one.”

Most overhyped condo building:
22 West at 22nd and M streets, Northwest, because it really hasn’t lived up to expectations. It’s billed as a high-end building, but there’s a gas station incorporated into it and a bunch of the cool elements that were highlighted in the design phase—like mid-façade living gardens—never materialized. Plus, why would you have amazing full-glass walls in the corner units and then put giant concrete beams in the middle of the living room, ruining the view?”

Worst condo fees you’ve heard of:
“There’s a condo in Georgetown in which the owner bought all four of the units on the top floor and combined them into one supercondo. The fees, which were already high, quadrupled to $8,000 a month!”

Best local example of neighborhood planning gone awry:
“Umm . . . have you seen what Southwest DC looks like? Luckily, there are major projects underway that are going to transform the neighborhood, including new residential and retail development and a plan to create an amazing-looking waterfront.”

Architect who’s left the best mark on our city:
“I’m going to go with an old-school pick: John Russell Pope. His neoclassical buildings in DC include the National Gallery of Art and the National Archives. The Jefferson Memorial, which Pope also designed, is ranked fourth on the American Institute of Architects’ list of America’s Favorite Architecture.”

Favorite neighborhood for taking in history:
“Dupont is filled with the old mansions of another era and even the smaller rowhouses have historic markers hinting at their interesting pasts.”

Best LEED-certified building in the area:
“The new Nationals Stadium, which is certified Silver LEED, is also the first and only MLB stadium in the country to achieve such status. It even has a green roof over the outfield concession stand.”

Simplest way to green a home:
“Well first off, turn down the darn thermostat, turn off the lights when you leave the house, and make sure you have low-energy light bulbs for when they’re on. It also may be surprising to people that adding solar panels to offset your energy use is fairly easy, and many neighborhoods in the area are making it even easier.”

Upcoming development project you’re most excited about:
“I’m sort of obsessed with the new PNC building that’s being built at 17th and H streets near the White House. It designed by Gensler, an architecture firm, and has what they are calling an ‘eco lobby’ with a three-story climate wall that cools the space with flowing water. I can’t wait to see that baby in action.”

Favorite local real-estate blog besides your own:
JDLand.com for the amazing documentation of a neighborhood—Near Southeast—undergoing massive change. Jacqueline’s before and after photos are just amazing!”

Next week in the Blogger Beat, we talk beauty with All About the Pretty blogger Julia Coney. She lets us in on her best makeup tips for turning a day look into an evening look, her favorite drugstore-makeup finds, and the makeup wearer’s biggest enemy (we’re looking at you, foundation!). Check back next week for the interview!

Earlier interviews:
FishbowlDC
DC Sports Bog
All Blogger Beat interviews

Have a favorite local blogger you’d like to hear from? Send an e-mail to eleaman@washingtonian.com.

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