Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Future Starchitects Redefine Eastern Market Metro Plaza



If you add up their respective ages, they barely break 100, yet five Catholic University School of Architecture and Planning seniors are proving that the one about “age and wisdom going hand in hand” may be a tired old adage at that.

Masterminding a radical redesign proposal for the Eastern Market Metro Plaza for their senior Comprehensive Building Design Studio (CBDS), in which faculty-directed student teams form “architecture firms” and compete against other “firms,” Connor Smith, Ron Elmo, Scott Gillespie, David Edwards and Chloe Rice are approaching their studio project in true “Vitruvian” style.

“Architects in general need to know a little bit about everything,” said Rice, a former politics major and daughter of a New York architect and landscape architect. “In his Ten Books on Architecture, Vitruvius said we need to know history; we need to know physics; we need to know everything.”

Left Brain Right Brain

Applying those principles to their work, the five students - who named their firm GEERS Architects (an acronym of the first letters of their last names) - parlayed a $100,000 DDOT-funded proposal to build a 1,000 s.f. information hub for the Eastern Market Metro on a tired and defaced triangular park site diagonally across from the Metro station, into a different concept entirely. Recognizing that the 50,000 s.f. site also had the
potential to include exquisite but low maintenance grasses and gardens (including a meditation garden), Japanese Maples, flowering trees, a sustainable water harvesting system, bike hub and coffee bar, the students expanded their design in this regard and also determined it should encompass a site of similar size and dimension across the street. In short, what was initially a plan for a single information kiosk, which Rice quipped usually looks like a “space ship” that has been dropped onto a site, would become a 100,000 sf oasis - or urban destination - replete with lush landscaping and key lighting for safety during nighttime use.

“These spaces are very open but there are dark areas and someone had to have time to mess up those benches,” said Michigan native Dave Edwards, who’d originally come to the university for a summer program as a high school junior. Pointing to remnants of a heavily vandalized park seating area, Edwards and company emphasized that a comprehensive lighting system could also serve to connect the two Eastern Market Metro Plaza sites to surrounding restaurants, Barracks Row and Capitol Hill.


Confluence of Clients

“When DDOT came to us, in their eyes they had one client, and that was the tourist,” said Ron Elmo, a Philadelphian who admitted he was equally smitten with art and business, which propelled him into architecture. “But we soon realized that the other client was the resident,” he added, noting part of the design studio process for them as seniors is to learn to interface with the community: to work with the varied clients and agendas a professional architect might face.

Per studio director and Visiting Assistant Professor of Architecture Rauzia Ally, area residents and businesses are truly on board with the depth and scope of the expanded Eastern Market Metro Plaza Project. It is also possibly the first CBDS project that could bridge the gap from concept to reality, with DDOT funds to be supplemented by the community. Ally said that construction documents and permitting will be addressed during the summer, with a projected autumn build date if everything is on course. “This community is very active, so they don’t feel they’ll have a problem raising the rest of the money,” Ally said.

A Little Competition

In addition to GEERS architects, 17 other student firms have considered the Eastern Market site, each creating their own buildable architectural design proposal, according to Scott Gillespie. Raised in New Jersey where he and his father were card carrying disciples of “Bob the Builder,” Gillespie says, “In freshman year, they told us that architects design the stage that people live their lives on. When you’re designing, you’re creating spaces, and I always try and picture what it would be like to walk through that space, as I did with Eastern Market.”

According to Connor Smith, “architecture changes your perception of everything around you.” A Manhattan resident with New Jersey roots, Smith was bitten by the architecture bug during a high school year abroad studying art and architectural history at Cambridge University. He is credited by his GEERS peers for generating the site’s more sustainable moves, including the use of materials such as Turfstone in its water harvesting system and a green roof for the information hub.

And The Envelope Please
On May 6, celebrated architects from around the U.S. will come to CUArch to select the winning design – or designs – with a composite design not out of the question in terms of proceeding with the execution of the project. Overall, Gillespie said, “It’s nice to see the community is thinking what we’re thinking.”

11 comments:

Melanie on Apr 15, 2010, 8:31:00 AM said...

All those "renderings" have a vague National Enquirer quality to them, how the feet of the superimposed people never quite touch the ground. As for the design...ouch!

Go Peter!

pandaboy on Apr 15, 2010, 9:34:00 AM said...

This is a very confusing post. The rendering is of the plaza with the metro station entrance, but then it talks about the winning plaza being "diagonally across from the metro station." Is that the one on the south side of Penn or the north side. The photo is of the one on the north side of Penn.

The kiosk violates every known Capitol Hill historic district design rule but then again so did the metro awning. I hope at least that this means that the plans to reroute Penn aournd the plaza is dead.

Chris L on Apr 15, 2010, 2:57:00 PM said...

@Melanie

That's the current style with landscape architectural renderings. Check out some renderings from actual firms and you'll see that these students did a fairly decent job.

I quite like their design as well. As for your post...ouch!

The Sanguine Pen on Apr 15, 2010, 4:12:00 PM said...

I have to walk across this area each morning to get to the station to get to work.

Don't make me have to jump across six-foot pools of water, or have to walk around the block to get there.

The reason the existing area is so beat-up is there is never any money for maintenance. Imagine what this effete design will look like after five years untended...

And I just want recognition and respect for my innate, inherent, intrinsic, inlaienable RIGHT TO VOTE!!!

Anonymous said...

Especially being a student design team, some sort of study should have been done about current use, current pedestrian travel through the block - an "Existing Conditions Study". You learn it first year in studio. It's turning into a classic case of form over function if the people who actual utilize can no longer use it. Then you can only hope that the design changes the use of the space and it is utilized differently - which may be the case and the goal - who knows. If it does change it - and make it better, then bravo - but if it dies because no one can use it, back to first year you go, guys.

a classic case of the architect's disease - which is the desire to "change everything". see James Wines' coffee cup rendering for all you architects and designers who are reading and know what I'm talking about. a "bad, bad" architect would take a coffee cup and change the design of it even if given the chance. it's already a perfect shape to hold and drink liquid, has a handle so you don't burn your hand. design's done. move on.

As far as the renderings - they're fine. someone else posted they're typical architectural/landscape renderings and that's true. when you're rendering something as a schematic, you don't always want it to look too real or you start to get comments on "small picture" details - while the goal of renderings like this is to focus on "big picture". so - nice renderings.

I personally thing the design has some promise - just needs to be developed. give it a chance, people. you may find yourself walking through it one day thinking, "this is kinda nice".

Anonymous said...

Actually, I don't want to sound too critical considering 85% of the architecture firms in DC that call themselves "established" and "successful" would come with something terrible for this space.

Let's see how it turns out - these are ambitious students who made a firm not even out of school yet and I think the design is better than what would come out of most of the firms in DC. I'm inspired by their ambition and the design could turn out to be just fine. now they're getting a taste of how critical the "nobody's" can be;) Just don't listen to them....

bravo guys - keep going, and I look forward to seeing your next design, too.

Sheila said...

Pandaboy,

Actually the renderings are of the proposed information hub/kiosk, not the metro.

kimtoufectis on Apr 15, 2010, 11:46:00 PM said...

First, I generally like the design, especially compared with the current condition, but like a prior poster I am doubtful that the fairly complex landscape would be maintained.

Since I approach this Metro station each morning coming north on 7th Street I like the direct path in, but I wouldn't like the many obstacles in my path were I coming along the north side of South Carolina with the same destination in mind...

Any thinking about how to re-envision this area is appreciated!

Melanie on Apr 16, 2010, 8:11:00 AM said...

@ Chris L
I agree that the style of renderings is what's current, but using that metric as a basis for critical analysis leaves something to be desired.

Anonymous said...

The above poster is correct, this is the park catty-corner from the Metro stop.

That said, I doubt that no matter how much it's designed and redesigned, it will never be used by actual human beings except to be walked across to get from one side to another (the function of the present park) because there's nothing to do there -- no cafes, no kiosks, etc.

I suspect the neighbors facing the park would object to commercial activity -- hard to blame them -- but commercial activity is what draws people.

Why not just make it a garden park, lots of seasonal flowers,
with cobbled walks for crossing it, and call it a day.

If people want to hang out, they
will do what they do now,
go to the cafes & bistros on 8th and 7th.

Dan

Anonymous said...

I'm with Dan and others regarding the plans for the park kitty-corner from the Metro.

This park is traversed by neighbors going between their homes and 8th Street, the Metro and Eastern Market. It does not need commercial activity (people are one their way THROUGH here to the commercial activity OUTSIDE the residential neighborhood).

It certainly does not need obstacles. Let people do what they are trying to do.

It is used by people, who find it a nice place to (a.) sit and let their kids run around; or (b.) sit and read a book; (c.) enjoy the nice light and the long view provided up and down South Carolina Avenue.

The benches for sitting have been vandalized--official government vandals. The current City Council Member and his two predecessors like to boast about how they got the benches removed (by use of a SkilSaw!)

Replace the benches that are there, which were nicely planned as to location, light and use of space, or reposition the benches, but keep the mitts of the Council Member and his minions from destroying the benches again.

 

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