Southwest DC doesn't get the redevelopment spotlight much, its safe to say. Sure, there are always plans, but nothing much seems to happen. This month, however, one of its many '60's era buildings began a four-year redevelopment project, turning one of the largest middle-aged federal office buildings into an environmentally-conscious, modern piece of real estate. Renamed "Constitution Center", the 2.1m s.f. office building at 400 7th St., SW, (occupying the full block between 6th & 7th, D & E Sts.) has now begun renovation to bring it into the 21st century. Massachusetts-based owner David Nassif Associates has hired K Street-based SmithGroup, the nation's 6th largest architecture and engineering firm, to redesign the heavy edifice into a more transparent and contemporary structure. The new design will include LEED (green) building techniques, though the developers have not yet committed to seeking LEED certification, as well as floor-to-ceiling glass curtainwall, laminated insulated glass, and (this being Washington), a more "blast-resistant" exterior. The open courtyard will become a "heavily landscaped private courtyard", says David Varner, the lead architect on the project.
The finished product - sometime in early 2011 - will offer 1.4m s.f. of above-grade office space (no retail space is planned), 15 acres of underground parking - the largest private underground parking in the city - and installation of the largest "chilled beam" HVAC system in the country, which is a very good thing, we're pretty sure, since they've apparently been using it in Europe for years. James G. Davis Construction is performing the work. The Department of Transportation, the last occupant, vacated the property in June.
Constitution Center (the Nassif Building) dates back to 1970, when it first opened, designed by none other than Edward Durrell Stone, who designed a number of local office buildings and was accused of designing the Kennedy Center. Architect SmithGroup also designed the Chesapeake Bay Foundation building in Annapolis, and the first Platinum LEED-certified (the highest level) federal building, in Colorado. No tenants have yet queued up for the project.
David Nassif Associates won the right to develop the site in the mid-60's in an RLA (Redevelopment Land Agency) competition, says Varner, because the land was considered "blighted" under the NCPC Comprehensive Plan, having been vacant at the time. Much of the land nearby developed at that time had replaced old neighborhoods, demolished in the spirit of 'urban renewal' and to make way for the never-completed inner beltway, the only completed portion of which became the Southwest Expressway.