Washington Celebrates Architecture
SmithGroup for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Headquarters in Annapolis, Maryland.
Quinn Evans Architects for the preservation of the Sir Christopher Wren building in Williamsburg, Virginia. The building is exceptionally old — its masonry walls date back to late 17th century — and is an important icon of the William and Mary campus. The architects have preserved both the historic structure and its historic function as a classroom and meeting space. With the great care, the building has been brought up to modern standards. For example, discreet indirect lighting allows for nighttime activities in a formerly candlelit room.
Group Goetz Architects for the interior design of offices for Nixon Peabody L.L.P. in Washington. "Black dress-and-pearls," is how one juror described this project. "The client got something very elegant and very refined that will look as good in ten years as it looks now." The office accommodates two recently merged law firms in a space that expresses the new firm's identity. Employees enjoy nearly 500 square feet (45 square meters) per person, and fine finishes of oak, Indian rosewood, glass, and marble grace both partner offices and secretary work stations.
Allan Greenberg Architect, LLC for the Humanities Building at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Placed in a historic campus quadrangle, it preserves the university's character and equilibrium between indoor and outdoor spaces through arcades and a new courtyard. A 90-foot- (27-meter-) high tower houses the main stair and continues the school's tradition of punctuating the campus skyline with campaniles.
Torti Gallas and Partners-CHK, Inc. for the preservation of historic Alban Towers in Washington. The prestigious 1929 apartment houses had been characterized by a Gothic Revival style and high level of finishes, many of which had been lost or damaged. The jury commended the architect for researching the building's interior details and protecting historic elements during construction.
In addition to the Chapter Awards, the new Catalyst Awards recognize works of commercial architecture that improve Washington's streetscape and community. Two of this year's Catalyst Awards went to the firm of Adamstein & Demetriou. Their Levante's cafe changed a corner of Dupont Circle from just a place to cross the street to a lively Mediterranean tavern, with outdoor seating, an inviting entrance, and sculptural planes inside that entice passersby. "There is a sense of place where there was none before," the jury said.
Back to School
Each year, hundreds graduate from Washington's four local architecture schools: The Catholic University of America, Howard University, the University of Maryland, and Virginia Tech's Alexandria Center for Architecture and Urban Studies (ACAUS). These schools are hotbeds of creativity and high-tech innovation and breeding grounds for future Washington practitioners.
As part of Architecture Week, the Washington Architectural Foundation sponsors a student design competition. This year's challenge was to design an escalator canopy to express the unique context of one of five subway stations.
The top prizes this year went to students of ACAUS. The first prize was awarded to Charles McSorley, who proposed a pair of glowing beacons marking the entrances at the Arlington Cemetery metro stop. Juror Stephen Vanze, AIA said that "these compelling glass towers of silence and light mark the procession and axis of the National Mall as it terminates in Arlington Cemetery."
The second prize went to John White and James Cooke for a shaft coming out of the metro entrance at Dupont Circle, representing the energy of this crowded urban site.
A New Row of Urban Housing
One of the first events of Architecture Week was a tour of the nearly completed Logan Heights development designed by diVISION ONE as a 21st century interpretation of the classic Washington row house.
All three partners in the young firm grew up in the area, graduated from the University of Maryland's School of Architecture in the mid-1990s, and take a keen interest in a city that's coming back to life just as they've come of age to help.
They call their row house interpretation "loftstyle." Partner Craig Williams explains: "Row houses have windows in the front and windows in the back. The biggest challenge is getting in light. So we put in a stair tower with skylights, and opened up the main floor to get light all the way through."
Add exposed ductwork, light paint colors, birch paneling, and concrete countertops, and the space takes on a Soho feel: elegant but industrial.
A Tour through Georgetown
Another event was a walking tour of Georgetown, best known for its very old, very affluent neighborhoods. Tour guide Daniel Emberley and AIA/DC executive director Mary Fitch, AICP led a tour through Georgetown's "other" side, an area that was once a gritty industrial waterfront.
By the 1970s, this area had become a neglected eyesore, ripe for development. Meanwhile, according to Emberley, neighboring Washington was running out of prestigious office space.
"A few people of vision saw that Georgetown's old Potomac flats could become something new," he says. "Inspired by lower Manhattan and the writings of Jane Jacobs, they saw a neighborhood that could combine office space, retail, and residential uses in a way that was new — not just to Washington, but to most American cities."
Emberley continues: "What happened next became one of the great urban success stories, a model for communities across the nation. Architects and developers created a place where tourists flock, high-tech professionals crunch numbers, and affluent residents in their penthouses with river views overlook the collegiate hoi polloi of this vibrant neighborhood."
Buildings visited in this walking tour included the Flour Mill, Georgetown Park, the Papermill, and Washington Harbour. They range in style, according to their industrial antecedents, copying details of older Georgetown, or suggesting something completely different and modern. As Emberley says, "this is a place where history combines with new business, urban living, and good design."
Hannah McCann is communications manager of the Washington Chapter of the AIA. Portions of this article were originally published in the AIA/DC Magazine, 2001, Volume 4.