As lead architect David Varner puts it: “Maintaining the concrete frame probably saved about $60 million in construction costs and shaved about a year off the renovation.” But as far as design, “We pretty much went out of our way to invert just about every design feature of the old DOT building.” Although designed in 1969 by the architect behind the Kennedy Center and Radio Center Music Hall, Edward Durell Stone, the general consensus - at least among DOT employees - was that their old office frankly didn't measure up to general office standards.
DOT employees used to describe their offices as “dark and disorienting,” according to Varner because the original building had less than 50 percent glass. That’s not a problem with Constitution Center’s floor-to-ceiling, blast-resistant glass design that ensures “no employee will be further than 45 feet from a natural light source at any time.”
No federal agencies have yet signed up to move their offices to Constitution Center, but the buzz is that the owner would prefer one federal tenant with multiple departments to move in by early 2011. With 1.3 million s.f. of rentable space, a 310-seat auditorium, a 15-acre garage with a 1,500 car capacity (the largest in the city), four lobbies, and a 90,000 s.f. central courtyard, it's safe to say the future occupant will be able to stretch out in the complex that occupies the entire block between 6th, 7th, D, & E Streets. Add to its list of superlatives that the project is the largest office renovation in the country expected to receive a LEED Gold certification.
Along with aesthetic improvements, a major security overhaul went into the new design of the Constitution Center complex. Garage columns are steel jacketed to guard against an ISC Level IV explosion, just for that country-Inn-kind-of-feel. And while your Beemer may be toast by that point, two separate security access points were placed at the employee-only entrance. All air-intake units and filters are located 110 feet above the ground to guard against any airborne biological attack which, we're told, tends to concentrate closer to the ground. Constitution Center even has its own filtered water supply.
The major trade off? The grand central courtyard designed by the landscape architects of Oculus will, predictably, be closed to pedestrians, meaning no more public access or farmers market. But when you're talking about an office building with its own filtered water and air supply, are you really surprised?
Varner explains that in a modern, secure building, the owner felt it was not feasible to keep a public courtyard. But, in an effort to maintain a solid relationship with the community, Oculus and SmithGroup designers worked to increase the outdoor green space by 700 percent, beautifying the street front for those that have to walk around it.
Shedding a little sunlight on federal offices isn't such a bad idea, even if it's coming through blast-resistant glass.