In 1905, an Apartment House opened at 17th and H streets, Northwest. Called the Bachelor Flats, it was a state-of-the art building that hoped to attract affluent singles with amenities such as meals delivered by a dumbwaiter. More than a century later, Washington is awash in apartment complexes aimed at the same cohort. Many are bland and samey—unlikely to be loved by future generations. But some stand out as thoughtful additions to DC’s architectural landscape. As new housing complexes continue to shoot up around town, which ones might delight us in the decades to come?
800 P Street, NW
Whether it’s corner men hanging outside the barbershop or millennials knocking back DC Braus in Dacha Beer Garden, Shaw is a neighborhood that lives on its streets and sidewalks. This trio of boxy apartment buildings, which opened in 2013, captures that feel by incorporating a public street into its design—a curbless, cobblestone strip of roadway where cars, pedestrians, and cyclists integrate naturally with the ultramodern structures. The result is a space that feels like an outdoor room—a natural extension of Shaw street life. The complex also figures prominently in another part of contemporary DC culture. With young gay men flocking to the area, City Market has become known in some quarters as “the Gay Dorm”—one of the city’s most in-demand addresses for the downtown LGBTQ scene.
401 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Phil Esocoff might be the most prolific apartment-house architect of the 2000s, having designed some 20 buildings in the District since the turn of the millennium. Esocoff’s structures aren’t identical, but their idiosyncrasies make them easy to pick out. Mount Vernon Square’s 401 Mass. Ave. is his best building, with its ocean of rippling brick and clever balconies that peel outward from the facade. At one edge of the 2007 building is its defining feature: a sensuous glass corner that has become a landmark for drivers flooding into the city on 395.
625 Rhode Island Avenue, NW
Like Esocoff, architect Suzane Reatig has a long history designing apartments in Washington, but on a decidedly smaller scale. Though her buildings tend to be three or four stories, they’re no less distinctive, largely due to her liberal use of color. Shaw’s 625 Rhode Island, built in 2012, is a prime example of her bold aesthetic, with its flourishes of Creamsicle orange and Barney-the-dinosaur purple. Reatig’s work can be controversial, and this certainly is. But I love how different it is—not just modern but al-most aggressively hostile to the staid good taste of so many Washington residences.
4455 Connecticut Avenue, NW
With its intricate brick details, old-school casement windows, and fanciful chrome accents, this behemoth looks like a DC classic—a close relation of the palatial Art Deco Kennedy-Warren. In reality, Park Van Ness opened in 2016. For 15 years, the Silver Spring architecture firm Torti Gallas has specialized in new structures that recall Washington’s historic apartment houses. This is its most successful effort yet, partly because of an eye-catching touch: a large arched opening that provides an appealing lightness and lets passersby steal glimpses of Rock Creek Park.
2800 Clarendon Boulevard, Arlington
Market Common is best known for the shopping center at its base, which features stores such as Apple and Crate & Barrel arrayed in a horseshoe around a little park. Since arriving in 2001, it has helped transform Clarendon into Arlington’s answer to Dupont Circle. Shoppers might not even realize it’s an apartment building—the floors with living space are stepped back from the street. It’s a surprisingly successful mixed-use concept, catering both to people who live there and to iPhone addicts swinging by for their Genius Bar appointments. A little passage next to Barnes & Noble is especially appealing. Walk through it and you’re transported to a block of quaint, Craftsman-style townhouses that line a park filled with trees.
929 Bonifant Street, Silver Spring
Washington’s apartment boom has coincided with efforts to create more high-design affordable housing, giving people with limited means a dignified place to live that doesn’t scream “housing project.” Recently, I walked past the Bonifant in downtown Silver Spring with a friend who groused that it’s just another collection of yuppie condos. He was surprised when I told him the 11-story building, which opened in 2016, actually contains 139 apartments for low- and moderate-income seniors. No matter how many new buildings go up around town, the area’s real estate seems to keep getting more expensive. The Bonifant is an important reminder that good design shouldn’t benefit just Washington’s wealthiest.