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Congress wants to raise the roof, but only a little bit. By Benjamin Freed
Putting a few penthouses up here shouldn't really change the view. Photograph by Flickr user Mr. T in DC.

The House voted yesterday to tweak the 1910 Height Act, governing the height of buildings in DC, to allow building owners to convert some downtown rooftops into habitable spaces.

The fairly mundane adjustment, which sailed through the House by a 367-16 vote, satisfied the DC Council’s desire to leave any changes to the city’s skyline in federal hands, a position it took last November when it passed a resolution opposing any Height Act rewrites and in favor of letting Congress handle the issue. 

The bill was sponsored by Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican who leads the House Oversight Committee, who has been pushing for changes to the Height Act since 2012, when, he asked the DC government to propose a rewrite. Former DC Planning Director Harriett Tregoning responded with a 200-page report last year recommending sweeping changes, including 200-foot-tall buildings downtown. Height Act supporters thoroughly bashed Tregoning’s recommendations and the DC Council rejected them when it absolved itself of any interest in raising the city's skyline.

Instead, the current bill permits developers and other property owners to turn “mechanical penthouses”—rooftop areas reserved for heating ducts, elevator shafts, and water towers—into apartments, restaurants, or other office space.

Assuming it clears the Senate as easily as it did the House, the bill will have almost no effect on the precious views preserved by the 114-year-old law. “The height of buildings in this city will not change by one foot under the act,” said, Issa, according to the Washington Times. He told his colleagues the bill would allow buildings to hide ungainly industrial rooftop parts with “architectually pleasing” additions. 

The few detractors to the piecemeal modification were led by Representative Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican with a knack for oddball metaphors. “I’m concerned this is the camel’s nose going above the tent,” Gohmert said, adding that even a slight change to a very restrictive law that could be the vangaurd of bigger Height Act amendments.

Despite his wish to preserve the status quo, Gohmert’s interest in the city’s welfare only goes so far: He supports ceding the land that makes up the District back to Maryland.

Posted at 11:26 AM/ET, 04/29/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Three teams of architects are competing to overhaul DC’s Mies van der Rohe-designed central library. By Benjamin Freed
The MLK Library as it exists now. Photograph by Flickr user Kate Mereand-Sinha.

The architecture teams competing for the job of remodeling and possibly expanding DC’s flagship Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library released renderings of designs today of their proposed overhauls of the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed building.

The teams—composed of Patkau Architects, Ayers Saint Gross, and Krueck + Sexton; Dutch firm Mecanoo and DC-based Martinez + Johnson Architecture; and STUDIOS Architecture and the Freelon Group—were announced in December as the finalists. 

The designs are likely to revive criticism from those who want to see the 1972 building left unchanged. The structure has local and national historic landmark status, and also falls under the purview of the National Capital Planning Commission, a federal board that oversee’s the capital’s skyline.

But library officials have long complained the MLK Library is in poor condition, with bad wiring and failing heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems. Its innards are caked with asbestos, and the windows that haven’t been replaced yet are inefficient. The District government plans to lay out $103 million over the next five years to restore and expand the building, though total costs for the project could exceed $250 million.

City officials asked the architecture teams to come up with two designs each—one that leaves the MLK Library at its current, three-story dimensions, and one that includes additional floors with space for commercial tenants and ground-floor retail.

The renderings will be display tomorrow in MLK Library and several branch libraries,  and on DC Public Library’s website. The public will get its first crack at the proposed redesigns on Saturday, February 15 during a formal presentation at the central library.

By STUDIOS Architecture and the Freelon Group:

By Mecanoo and Martinez + Johnson Architecture:
By Patkau Architects, Ayers Saint Gross, and Krueck + Sexton:

Posted at 05:02 PM/ET, 02/07/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
See the transformed school, designed by Sorg Architects. By Michelle Thomas
Anacostia High School. Photograph by Anice Hoachlander, courtesy of Sorg Architects.

After a $58 million renovation, the large-scale modernization of Southeast DC’s Anacostia High School—a project led by U Street firm Sorg Architects and completed in August 2012—received American School & University’s award for Outstanding Design for a Renovation/Modernization in the magazine’s November issue. The annual competition honors education design and spotlights the nation’s most effective and inspiring learning environments.

Lead architect Suman Sorg’s task was to update the 200,000-square-foot school—including new classrooms and an updated cafeteria, gym, auditorium, and media center—while retaining the historic integrity of the 1930s architecture. The firm restored the building’s original details (hardwood flooring, high, coffered ceilings, transom windows) and structure, clearing years of patchwork and redesigning the floor plan, which had become confusing after several additions. In the basement-level cafeteria, Sorg carved a double-height space out of the existing structure, allowing for larger windows and plenty of daylight. A local artist collaborated with the school’s students to create murals that were then adapted for use as decor throughout the hallways. And on the roof, the design incorporated vegetated green roofs and rainwater collection for use in the building’s plumbing—both green building strategies that contribute to the school’s bid for LEED Gold certification.

Read on to see the school’s award-winning transformation.

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Posted at 02:34 PM/ET, 02/03/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
See who made the cut for 2014. By Michelle Thomas
Local interior designer Darryl Carter and architect Allan Greenberg are included on the AD100 list for 2014. Darryl Carter interior, left; photo courtesy of Darryl Carter. Allan Greenberg design, right; photo by Durston Saylor.

It’s always great to see some familiar names pop up on a national list of bests—and this time, it’s area interior designer Darryl Carter and architect Allan Greenberg, both named to Architectural Digest’s 2014 AD100, which ranks the publication’s picks for the top talents nationwide. The magazine has been compiling the list for nearly 25 years.

This is the third consecutive year that the Alexandria-based Greenberg has been placed on the list. Carter was previously included in 2012.

Read on for some high-design eye candy from the two, then head to Architectural Digest’s site to see the complete list.

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Posted at 01:18 PM/ET, 01/08/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The plans will be formally presented in February. By Benjamin Freed
One proposal would plunk two additional floors on top of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library. Rendering courtesy Freelon Group.

The DC Public Library has narrowed down its list of choices to renovate its flagship Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial branch to three architecture teams. The teams, culled from an original list of 10, will present in February their plans to rehabilitate and potentially expand the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed library in downtown DC.

The teams are composed of Vancouver-based Patkau Architects, Ayers Saint Gross, and Krueck + Sexton; Dutch firm Mecanoo and DC-based Martinez + Johnson Architecture; and STUDIOS Architecture and the Freelon Group, the Washington Post reports.

Freelon, based in Durham, North Carolina, is responsible for widely circulated renderings last year that showed a revamped MLK Library with two floors of mixed-use space and possible ground-floor retail. The firm also designed DCPL’s Anacostia and Tenleytown-Friendship branches.

The MLK Library will be a massive undertaking for whichever architecture team wins the contract. The building, opened in 1972, desperately needs overhauls to its electric, heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems. Its guts are caked with asbestos, and most of its windows need replacing. The District government plans to lay out $103 million over the next five years for the project, though a renovation such as the one drawn up by Freelon would cost at least $250 million.

But the library won’t be any ordinary remodeling job. Because the structure received local and national landmark status in 2007, the winning proposal will have to satisfy the Historic Preservation Review Board. The National Capital Planning Commission, as the arbiter of  DC’s skyline, also has some jursidiction.

The architecture teams will present their designs at a public meeting on February 15.

Posted at 01:40 PM/ET, 12/23/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The firms were ranked on business, sustainability, and design. By Michelle Thomas
Top photos of 1050 K Street via Hickok Cole Architects website; bottom designs of Georgetown University via Studio Architecture.

What’s the best way to choose the nation’s top architecture firms? If you’re Architect magazine, the process includes ignoring the revenue rankings—which can often exclude smaller firms—and instead taking an intensive, qualitative look at each firm’s sustainability, business, and design by examining net revenues per employee, energy-efficiency metrics, and project portfolios. The resulting ranked list winds up including the smaller boutique firms alongside the big guys. This year, the list—the magazine’s fifth—included 14 firms that maintain a presence in our city. Read on to see which Washington firms made the list, along with the overall rank for each, then visit the magazine’s website to see the lists broken down by criteria.

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Posted at 05:35 PM/ET, 09/23/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()