Monday, January 31, 2011

Eisenhower Commanding the Mall

Three design alternatives for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial will be presented this Thursday at a public meeting before the The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC). One of the three concepts selected by the Eisenhower Memorial Commission will be chosen for the 400 block of Independence Avenue, SW, in a plan that could get final review as early as this year.

The Eisenhower Commission selected architect Frank Gehry early last year to design the memorial, and several subsequent rounds of revisions have honed the site plan into three designs, one that creates a circular pattern of smooth, non-supporting and seemingly unfinished columns surrounding the park and tribute (top rendering), a second that follows the colonnade and deference to L'Enfant but allows Maryland Avenue vehicular traffic to continue through the site (middle rendering), and a third that leaves the original concept of a road closure and block-filling park intact, along with the original concept of a screen - "tapestries of woven stainless steel mesh supported on the colonnade of limestone" (bottom rendering).
The $90-120 million project (Washingtonspeak for $180m) mandated by Congress for the 34th President is behind schedule on its projected 2015 opening, but whenever it wraps up, it will provide "a cohesive and contemplative space for learning about President Eisenhower and his vast accomplishments." Each version will have a central tree grove strategically placed to frame local vistas, underneath which visitors relax, sit and learn amid a new orthogonal grid of urban canopy.

The Eisenhower Commission, a 12 member, bipartisan group that includes senators, representatives, former presidential appointees, and Ike's grandson, has expressed its preference for the Scheme 3 that eliminates Maryland Avenue and breaks up the L'Enfant plan, creating a more cohesive tribute to the General and President. "It would be extraordinary if we can build this memorial designed by the foremost architect in America in today" said Daniel Feil, Executive Architect for the Eisenhower Commission. "This will be the 7th monument for a President [in DC] and the first in a century."

The presentation by NCPC is the first of three phases before the Commission, in this case to render design guidance on each of the three plans. The second of three required NCPC hearings will review the ultimate plan once it is selected, with a third hearing for final plan review; NCPC reviewed and approved site selection in 2006, and Gehry made an informational presentation before NCPC a year ago. NCPC Public Affairs Director Lisa McSpadden notes that the Commission "did give very specific design principals" to the National Park Service, incorporating 7 guidelines such as maintaining views of U.S. Capitol. The U.S. Commission on Fine Arts CFA reviewed and approved it on January 20th, the next step will entail a public review and comment period. Gehry and his team will be on hand at Thursday's meeting to hear out the Commission's presentation.

Washington DC real estate development news

Adventures in Chakra-tecture!

By Beth Herman

When a mold-ridden, baby blue, vinyl-sided 1970s “fake” farmhouse in Frederick County, Va., needed a total architectural alignment (translation: to raze or not to raze), Reader & Swartz Architects recruited the growing young family who lived there in a proactive design effort largely about lifestyle.

With yoga practice paramount among homeowners Stephen and Julie Pettler’s daily requisites, the original 2,858 s.f. home was reimagined “poetically,” according to Principal Chuck Swartz, to reach up and out, emulating a yoga pose. Appreciating the sun’s path in the course of the day with considerable length and glass added to the southern face, the ultimate 5,125 s.f. design included a soothing, cork-floored yoga room and library, and a dedicated school room for home schooled Zoe, now 14, Olivia, 11 and Sophia, 8.

Kapalabhati (breathing technique for cleansing breaths)

“When we started the project, there was really nothing in the house worth keeping because it was neither historic nor special,” Swartz said, recalling a kind of initial 911 call from the homeowners. “One of the things that had happened along the way was that with each improvement to the house (purchased in 2002), things got worse,” he continued, explaining that contractors had clogged or sealed crawl spaces and attic vents through the years. Project manager Kevin Walker called its walls “…a haven for mold.” Suffering serious respiratory ailments as a result and requiring mold abatement, the family had considered demolishing the property except for a conservation conscience that impelled it to investigate other options.

“In another situation, we might have bulldozed,” Swartz conceded, “but our client charged us with doing as good as we could environmentally, so that meant fixing the mold situation and not using toxic materials that might off-gas. Anything that was going into this house had to be thoughtful,” he said. Construction waste was sorted and recycled when possible. Additionally, Swartz recalled that the structure was situated perfectly–on a private road with mature trees and lots of land and vistas, and siting that utilized passive solar gain – making the decision to maintain the footprint of the house that much easier.

Surya Namaskara (sun salutation)

Building a 2,267 s.f. two-story addition to the East containing the yoga room, a library and master suite above it, and a one-story living room to the Southwest, the house went from being a “boxy piece of something to something that stretched up and out to the sun,” said Swartz. Sporting a gable roof made of trusses, the architects were able to remove them and create a simple shed roofline. “By putting a new hat on it and adding the two wings, we really changed the house’s sense of self,” he affirmed.

Retaining the existing box as the core of the new house, this became the kitchen with three children’s bedrooms, a laundry room and bathroom above it. While working within the structure’s traditional though limiting eight-foot ceilings, the architects decided to open up the second floor above the kitchen, creating a space that at its apogee is 28 feet high, and which fosters easy conversation between downstairs and upstairs occupants (Swartz quipped about waking up the kids from the kitchen). A light monitor – or vertical window with a tiny roof – at the top channels sunlight everywhere, and cedar trees a friend of the Pettler’s was cutting down anyway were reincarnated as columns that support steel used in some of the kitchen construction.

In the kitchen, which Swartz called the home’s spiritual center because its design connects everyone, cabinets of maple, crushed sunflower seeds, bamboo and sorghum can be seen, with towering wood structures which hold the oven and refrigerator shooting up through the open space with a skyscraper-like or sun worshipping quality. Topped with wells (not planters that can leak), house plants nest in self-watering pots so as not be over-watered. On the second floor, little doors open up to the wells for plant maintenance. The living room addition, in part defined by a soapstone structure that houses a woodstove and bookshelves, has a surprise tree leaning out from a corner of the structure. Deep shelves are lined with metal to hold firewood, and in a nod to nature, a boulder–unearthed during the construction process–now doubles as sculpture and seating. The space reaches up and out, toward the sun, with a ceiling trajectory of about eight feet to more than 15 feet.

Namaste (the soul in me acknowledges the soul in you)

“We wanted to make a modern house that was really wonderful, but not make it all about the architect,” Swartz explained, also speaking to the fa├žade. To that end, a decision to personalize the home’s exterior was manifested in the expanded use of “tattoos,” wherein art panels were painted by family members, relatives, friends and even an artist in Japan where Julie Pettler had worked. “They had friends over, and had champagne and chocolate, telling people they couldn’t leave until they painted a panel,” Swartz recalled, noting a clear poly coating was applied in the end. “Now it’s like a time capsule on the outside of the building,” he said.

Skinned in cedar siding, the exterior material finds its way to the interior, framing the staircase and seen again outside the kitchen where the living room is. Unpainted plaster walls on the first floor and drywall for bedroom walls maintain the space’s clean simplicity, with downstairs flooring of reclaimed wormy chestnut. The stairs themselves, made of hickory, are each two risers high, essentially creating bleacher seating for the girls and/or platforms for pots and plants. Rafts between the bleachers facilitate climbing, with a flying staircase effect achieved beyond the landing.

With a high efficiency HVAC that includes ground-loop geothermal, radiant floor tubing and an on demand tank-less water heater, as well as other sustainable elements such as low or no-VOC stains and sealants, and high efficiency fixtures and fittings, the house meets the personal criteria of an environmentally- and health-conscious young family.

“It was important to me to see how a family could be that involved in the architecture,” Walker said, noting the process was more about the people living there than the architects. “They are so much more in tune with the results because of that. It was good to see them come back to their home, but with a whole different life.”

"After" photography by Judy Davis/HDPhoto

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Donatelli Building Again in Columbia Heights

Developer in Chief of Columbia Heights Chris Donatelli will soon build his next residential addition to the Metro-oriented DC neighborhood. Donatelli has just scored $116m in financing from lender Invesco Real Estate, an event Donatelli said was the last impediment to building a 143-unit apartment building designed by Bethesda's GTM Architects. The building on Irving Street will be adjacent to Donatelli Development's Highland Park apartment building and across from the DC USA shopping center. The apartment building will replace a small homeless shelter that was closed on October 15, with a new structure that will essentially become a wing to its neighbor.

The District of Columbia granted the developer a time extension just this fall, under which Donatelli has until mid 2012 to file for building permits, though Chris Donatelli had firmly maintained that he intends to build sooner, and said in a text (yes, text. Cool.) that construction would start within 60 days. Originally approved as the "Calla Lilly", a 69 unit residence (see rendering, at right below), the building will now feature a setback penthouse level and blend more harmoniously into Highland Park. The recent zoning extension also alleviates parking requirements by taking advantage of Highland Park's underground garage. The new Highland Park West apartment tower will front Irving Street and be connected to its sibling, both physically and visually, replicating the style of the existing apartments. A new shelter facility will occupy the back portion of the lot, and will stand separately from the apartment buildings.

Highland Park was completed by Donatelli and partner Gragg and Associates in early 2008; the Art Deco revival building, designed by Silver Spring architects Torti Gallas, adds a subtle timelessness while without mirroring nearby architecture. The project had been listed for sale as condominiums from 2005 to 2007, but in late 2007 Donatelli canceled sales with only about a quarter of its 227 units having sold, converting the building to apartments that filled quickly.

DC Real Estate Development News

Friday, January 28, 2011

Equity Underway on Lyon Park Apartments

Equity Residential is now officially bullish on the DC market, having broken ground several weeks ago on its newest apartment project in Arlington's Lyon Park neighborhood. With its confidence in the Washington DC area market boosted by its success at 425 Mass, a new but empty building that Equity bought after foreclosure for $167m and then filled more than 70% of its 557 units, Equity is now taking on a project that also struggled for several years in a neighborhood not quite obvious for its retail and residential potential.

The project at 2201 Pershing Drive will replace several dated stripmalls with 188 rental apartments on top of a substantial 33,000 s.f. of retail base. Equity, the largest owner-operator of apartments in the country with 133,000 units (and counting), owns the adjoining Sheffield Court apartment building, so it presumably knows something about the not-entirely-obvious site away from the Clarendon Boulevard golden strip. Despite the large retail footprint, individual shops will be scaled small for local-serving operators, and Equity representatives say they have not even begun trying to secure tenants yet.

Marty McKenna of Equity says
his company will complete the apartments in the third quarter of 2012, a culmination of years of waiting for a project once anticipated to break ground in 2008 under plans approved for a previous developer by Arlington County in January of 2008. Designed by Bethesda-based SK&I, the traditional brick, stone masonry, glass, and cementitious fiberboard sided structure consists of two buildings, each using the same materials and rising four and five stories - LEED certified as part of the county's approval - with 18 subsidized apartments and parking behind each building for the retail and one level below-grade parking for residents.

The Washington Smart Growth Alliance has given the project the smart thumbs up, prodded by the stripmalls-into-anything philosophy, despite the generous
concession to the automobile, but helped by the 85 bicycle spaces and proximity to bus routes. Equity will salvage the small historic facades by dismantling the limestone blocks, cleaning them, and reassembling them back into contemporary apartment building. Demolition should be complete within the next 2-3 weeks. Details from Abbey Road, the previous developer, are available on their website.

Arlington, Virginia Real Estate Development News

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An Embassy for a Home

Embassy of Singapore conversion into private home in downtown Washington DCFor those in the market for a wildly grand home in DC, 1824 R Street, NW, is for sale for an 1824 R Street, nw, Washington DC - Dupont Circle real estateasking price of $15,500,000.  The Georgian mansion was the former Embassy of Singapore until seven years ago, when it was fully restored. Jim Bell, real estate agent for Washington Fine Properties notes how difficult it is to find this much space (13,000 s.f.) in a downtown residential property, though the building, likely built in the 1800's (the courthouse that stored the papers apparently burned down, so it's not entirely clear what year the home was built), is zoned for multi-purpose use. The space had been renovated by the son of the most recent owner, a doctor with a passion for architecture and design. The dwelling is being marketed as an embassy-turned-residence, a "single family home for the past 7 years," but DC residents know that it was the short-lived Artists Residents Inn. What's so great about the home? For starters, large windows facing south and west exposure allow plenty of light, or in realtorspeak, "a magical glow." Embassy of Singapore now a private home in downtown Washington DC Let's talk numbers:
  • 13 fireplaces
  • 18 flat screen TV's with surround sound
  • 8 bedrooms
  • 9 full baths
  • 2 half baths
  • 13 HVAC zones
  • 1 gym
  • 1 "telecommunications room" with
  • 1 steel-enclosed "panic room"
  • 1 massage room
  • 3 laundry rooms (including "concealed laundry room")
  • 5 parking spaces
  • 6 countries represented in the home: French limestone, Italian marble, American pine (reclaimed from a Buffalo, NY schoolhouse) as well as pine from a Pennsylvania barn, an 18th century Spanish door, a 19th century Portuguese door, and a 19th century Indian door.
In the event you'd need a display area, there's a gallery near the foyer on the ground level, as well as a family room-slash-home theater, a powder room and an office. The second level entertains, with a living room, sun room, library, formal dining room, and the eat-in kitchen with a terrace, finished off with upgraded appliances, naturally. Four bedrooms reside on the third level, each with its own fireplace and en-suite bathroom. But the fourth level provides a bit more exclusivity to get away from the kids, with a master suite with sitting room and full bath, as well as two more bedrooms with bathrooms. There's an in-law suite in the lower level, as well as the gym, massage room and panic room, should the market tank after the settlement papers are inked.
Embassy of Singapore converts to home in Dupont Circle - Washington DC real estateThe half bathroom on the first floor is hidden by a swinging bookshelf. Embassy of Singapore converts to home in Dupont Circle - Washington DC real estateMaster bedroom, part of master suite
Dupont Circle real estate for saleThe kitchen offers plenty of light and additional terrace seating.
Dupont Circle: Embassy for saleThe breakfast room on the first floor houses one of thirteen fireplaces. That's alot of duraflame logs.
Washington DC commercial real estate for saleThe ground level family room traverses the width of the home.
Commercial property news - Washington DCModest guest quarters on the third floor.
A second bedroom on the third floor is masculine in its decor.
Guest suite, with fire sculpture, inspired by Salvador Dali.

The Yard Inside

By Beth Herman
When it comes to families, no one wants a home's manicured front lawn and curb appeal marred by remnants of yesterday's water balloon fight or Saturday's mud pie bake-off. In that respect, relegating the family experience to the back yard is a pretty good idea.
For FOX Architects Principal Jim Allegro and designer Holly Martin, creating both a formal and informal environment for 120 Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) employees, 11921 Freedom Drive in Reston, Va., was indeed predicated on an expanded front yard/back yard concept, with high functioning public and private spaces that reflected the company's work and play ethic paramount.

With employee longevity a hallmark of GMAC, the nonprofit organization was incepted in 1954 as a comprehensive resource to meet the needs of business schools and students. Turning a 45,000 s.f. space into a design that reflected a warm employee family culture, along with areas that spoke to GMAC’s longstanding authority in its field, was a challenge met head-on by Allegro and Martin with their own designs on work and play.

A Fountain Runs Through It
Relocating from Tyson’s Corner to Reston, among GMAC’s primary goals was to improve employee quality of life. With a town center environment (ice skating rink; fountains; shops; restaurants and other amenities - all within walking distance) and abbreviated commute for reduced carbon footprint in the cards for much of its staff, the company jettisoned a 45,000 s.f. facility on two floors in Tyson’s Corner for one of equal size, also on two floors, in Reston.
Speaking to the collaboration between architects and client, Buck Blackburn, GMAC associate director, facilities and office services, said, “They became partners in the process...FOX had in-depth interviews with all departments and made sure to incorporate those requests into their design. They worked closely and smartly with all levels of the organization.”

Allowing that GMAC’s previous space was in fact not outdated or cramped in any way, but “equally modern,” according to Allegro, among the issues FOX Architects faced was ensuring the new space emulated the old but with more style, creativity and advanced technology. With challenges that included lower ceiling height and an exchange of formerly panoramic views for those of surrounding buildings, opening the space and cultivating natural light along the perimeter were intrinsic to the organization’s new design. A focus on state-of-the-art A/V technology and video conferencing, which would minimize extensive travel requirements at issue for some employees, was also a new design objective.

Focus and Balance
“I’d say there was an element of public and private that played into the design concept,” Allegro said, explaining the “front yard” experience was to represent the former and “back yard” the latter. “They don’t get lots of visitors that come beyond their reception area and meeting space, and that’s where the bulk of their traffic is captured,” he said, adding the dollar and design focus went into feature walls in that space with curved, textured plaster and stone flooring.

Opposite a white lacquer, maple and antique glass reception desk, on the other side of the lobby where a bank of five elevators delivers visitors to the floor, Martin chose a double-sided fireplace that bespoke dignity and formality, yet accorded warmth to a space that in many offices can simply be sparse and utilitarian. A graceful, two-story water wall with rock garden base lends a regal, resort-like feel to the lobby area as well.
Because the reception area connects GMAC’s two floors (floors three and four of the building), Allegro said they elected to retain a stairway already in place. “That stair links very active places,” he said, adding “there’s nothing worse than a monumental stair that never gets used.” In this respect, the architect analogized that “…it feels more familial - like kids running up and down, going from bedrooms to kitchen,” noting the reason for the stairs is that they link 4th floor conference rooms to the highly trafficked reception area below, which also includes a lunchroom and smaller meeting rooms. In the lunchroom, a variety of seating, including touches like mesh “Fit” chairs from Interstuhl that conform to the body and breathe to accommodate body temperature, encourage staff to bring their laptops for a change of atmosphere, or even engage in a variety of Wii games which are readily available. A furnished balcony that overlooks Reston Town Center and supports about 200 people accommodates office and family functions, including holiday gatherings where children can watch the skaters below.

Where the floor above is largely dedicated to training, meetings and conferences, “mini team rooms” for more casual meetings, replete with lounge furniture, exist on both floors for staff purposes. Utilizing Plynyl (woven vinyl fabric bonded to polyurethane cushion) flooring, which is more durable and playroom-like, adds a true “back yard” quality to the mini team rooms which feature TV monitors. Coffee/copy functions nearby facilitate other needs.

According to Blackburn, the previous tenant in the space “…had dark wood and the window line covered with offices.” With a 60/40 closed office vs. open space concept now, access to the perimeter window line is generous. Where offices – which average 140 s.f – are enclosed, clear glass fronts channel natural light. Also, Martin’s light-toned wood, khaki-colored accent walls and white back-painted glass suggest an atmosphere of great balance, the overall design and color palette perpetuating the soothing, spa-like atmosphere first suggested by the lobby’s two-story water feature.

Top of the World
In their former offices, though conference and training rooms were cleverly named for various countries, they were inadequate spaces and Blackburn recalled using hotels for “all hands” meetings, at added cost to the company.

Creating a 2,200 s.f. divisible conference/training room that accommodates 150 in Reston, made up of one large and two smaller rooms, the space was subsequently monikered “the world,” Martin explained, and boasts Skyfold doors that retract into the ceiling for ultimate use of the space. Nine panels, or plasma screens, punctuate one wall, with access to daylight made possible by relocating a mobile wall. Tables on wheels result in unlimited configurations of space. A boardroom has a video wall which is eight feet long and 40 inches high, linking GMAC to various entities and serving to cut down on prolific travel, increase family time and reduce carbon footprint.

“My office is near the lobby and I hear visitor after visitor marvel at how nice the new office is,” Blackburn said, adding he hears staff interacting with visitors about how happy they are to work there. Noting he also gets to interact more with employees and they with each other, Blackburn affirmed, “It will take a few years to discover all the ways to make use of this space.”

Washington D.C. design news

Monday, January 24, 2011

Gaithersburg Apartments Celebrate Start Tomorrow

Archstone will hold a ceremony tomorrow morning to celebrate the start of their "Archstone Olde Towne" project. The mixed-use development will replace several old buildings with a 389-unit, four-story apartment building with 15,000 s.f. of ground-floor, street-front retail. Preston Partnership designed the building, in a form intended to reflect historic Gaithersburg structures. Archstone broke ground on the project on December 30th, and has since changed the name from "Westchester Olde Towne."

The project is a block from the Gaithersburg MARC Rail Station, and will feature "beach-entry lagoon-style pool," "re-oxygenating fitness center," and in-house pet salon for sundry four-leggers. The Gazette reported that Archstone had contested Woodfield Investments' application for a nearby apartment building as a competitor for HUD funds, an appeal that was dismissed by the city, and which ended amicably with both projects approved by the city and both granted HUD funds; Archstone received an $89.9 million FHA insured Section 221(d)4 loan through CWCapital.

Archstone also started a 469-unit apartment in NoMa last summer, and maintains that it still has stated plans to break ground on CityCenter this spring.

Gaithersburg, MD, real estate development news

Friday, January 21, 2011

Donohoe Companies to Develop Near New Silver Spring Library, Purple Line Rail Site

Whether the acre adjacent to the Silver Spring Library at the corner of Bonifant and Fenton Streets will become condos or apartments, retail or restaurants, it's too early to tell. Here's what we do know: Donohoe Companies and Montgomery Housing Partnership (MHP) have been given the go to develop a mixed-purpose, mixed-income project.

The location is key, since the site abuts a future purple line station, scheduled to break ground in 2013. The sixteen mile light rail line will run between Bethesda and New Carrollton. The county issued an RFQ last February, and estimated that the site could hold 120 units of housing, but required that 60% of the housing on the site be subsidized.

VOA Associates have been chosen as architects for the project, which, according to a designer in the Washington office, could begin sometime in 2011. As these things go, we're guessing rail construction time lines will shape development; sometime in 2011 seems soon.

Richard Nelson, Director of Montgomery County's Department of Housing and Urban Affairs says as much. “Transit-oriented urban infill projects can be challenging," he said, "and it was essential to select a team with deep experience in transit-oriented development, multi-family housing, tight infill locations and mixed-use development.”

And don't forget about the rehabbing of the Silver Spring Library. The public has been weighing in on color (Apparently MCPL gave residents free reign to weigh in until earlier this month) materials and design for the 30 million dollar project, which is scheduled to begin in about a year and will take two years to complete.

It's likely the Donohoe project will align with the development of its potential neighbors. Let's hope three years from now when the projects are complete, residents will still like the library colors.

Silver Spring real estate development news

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