Saturday, December 29, 2012


Q and A with Francisco Beltran and Angel Betancourt
by Beth Herman

Very much a family affair, the revered late 1980's-era Woodley Park Lebanese Taverna, 2641 Connecticut Avenue NW, is one of six restaurants, four cafe's and a market in the industrious Abi-Najm kin's epicurean gallery. Undergoing a complete demolition, Principal Francisco Beltran of Design Republica and project manager Angel Betancourt of Potomac Construction Services reimagined the 165-seat, 4,300 s.f. space. DCMud spoke with Beltran - veteran of more than 100 restaurant designs - and Betancourt about the venue, which reopened in early November.

DCMud: From a general perspective, what did the renovation entail?

Betancourt: It was a total demolition resulting in a more open feeling and contemporary design.

DCMud: Did anything survive the former design?

Betancourt: We did retain the cross-vaulted ceiling, though removed a lot of beams so the ceiling looks higher.

Beltran: The cross-vaults were something the family had invented back in '88, and that became the heart and soul of the restaurant. However previously, they'd had bulkheads that concealed air ducts and crossed the dining room horizontally that connected at points of the cross-vault. When we removed them, the illusion of a much grander ceiling, though it was already at 15.5 feet, was created. Removing the bulkheads gave a lot of verticality to the space as it's very linear and narrow.

DCMud:Was the space reconfigured in any way, and if so for what purposes?

Beltran: The restaurant had taken over an adjacent space in the mid-90s, making it into the private dining room - but it had no connection to the front of the house and people felt they were not dining in the heart of the restaurant. In the new design that space became the kitchen, and the new private dining room was conceived as a part of the main dining room.

DCMud: There appears to be a lot of sumptuous custom mill and tilework.

Beltran: The way we chose to finish the walls, floor surfaces and more was based on the Lebanese tradition of using hardwoods like walnut, much of which is reclaimed wood.Tabletops throughout are reclaimed walnut.

The main floor is assimilated wood plank flooring that's made of porcelain. It provides the illusion of warm hardwoods but is much more durable and non-slip. Custom concrete tile was used on the bar faces, and will be used on the storefront facade later on.

Carpet tiles in the restaurant are recyclable and have an oversized print and more of an antique look, which gave a warmth and character to the main dining room.

DCMud:  The private dining room appears to be swaddled, if you will, for luxury and sound.

Beltran: In that space, we used a floor-to-ceiling striping pattern where we alternated walnut hardwood planks in between 18-inch wide fabric panels, actually Homasote boards with batting, for dimension. We wrapped green tea leaf velvet fabric. All three major walls are encased in wood and velvet panels.

In the other part of the restaurant, we used copper velvet fabric for the banquettes treated with Nanotech stainguarding.

DCMud: Can you speak to the lighting?

Beltran: All lighting is LED. Chandeliers were custom made in Egypt specifically for this project. The chandeliers in the wall that divide the private dining room from the main dining room are Moroccan lanterns that we find in most Lebanese Taverna restaurants.

DCMud: Does the new restaurant resemble any of the others?

Beltran: From the time I first starting working with the family, in 2000, it was clear they didn't want their spaces to look like anything cookie-cutter, or a franchise. Each restaurant is specifically designed and detailed within the community - each has a different look and feel. And it's always a team effort, as the family, chefs and staff are deeply involved. The food, service and friendliness may be the same, but the experience of the surroundings is completely different. And the family treats each restaurant like it's their only one.

DCMud: More like Louis Sullivan's contextual architecture, perhaps.

Beltran: Each speaks the language of its community or neighborhood.

DCMud: You began working for family in the restaurant business when you were 14 years old, something that evolved to later experiences with renowned chefs/restauranteurs Victorio Testa, Roberto Donna and others. Is your hospitality design work a strategic outcome of this?

Beltran: I knew in junior high school I wanted to be an architect. Combining food and design was more of a coincidence, though, when the first architecture firm at which I worked  did a restaurant. I said, 'I know all this,' so it was a natural blending and I never looked back.

DCMud: Is there a particular D.C. building that has impacted you as an architect?

Beltran: It has to be the Holocaust Museum. It's not so much the displays but the actual path through the building - the lighting. It's the way the walls enclose and direct you to experience the space - something very successful, very powerful and moving. I try and do that with my restaurants. I want to tell a story and give a different experience in any point of the restaurant - not just have it be one big open space where you see everything and know what it is. If you sit in different areas, they should evoke different feelings and emotions.

Friday, December 28, 2012

First Look at Parcel N at The Yards

Parcel N at The Yards. Image: Robert A.M. Stern
New renderings have been released of "Parcel N," one of two new apartment buildings planned for Forest City Washington's The Yards mega-development in DC's Capitol Riverfront neighborhood.

Robert A.M. Stern is the primary design architect on the "Parcel N" project, WDG is the architect of record.  Planning for the building is still in the design stage, although architects said they expect permits for the 340,000 s.f. structure to be secured by May 2013, with a groundbreaking set for August of 2013, according to WDG.

Parcel N at The Yards. Image: Robert A.M. Stern
Forest City broke ground this summer on the other project, "Parcel D", directly catty-corner to Parcel N.  That building is being designed by Shalom Baranes.

The Foundry Lofts, a 170-unit adaptive re-use project and the first residential building in the group, completed last year.  In June Forest City secured funding for an adaptive reuse project called The Lumber Shed, described as the The Yards' "retail centerpiece".  Another adaptive reuse of a century-old building into retail and restaurants, The Boilermaker Shops, is set for opening this spring.

Parcel N at The Yards. Image: Robert A.M. Stern
Plans for parcel N include an 11-story, 325-unit building at 310 Tingey Street with ground floor retail, two courtyards, a rooftop pool, a small green roof, and a LEED target of gold.

Peter Garofalo, architect with Robert A.M. Stern in New York, said the building's design references the area's industrial architectural tradition.  There used to be an old foundry on the site, Garofalo said, but it was torn down in the 1970's.

"What we are striving to do is build a building that references historical essences, but updates them in a playful and modern way and stitches those two vocabularies together..." Garofalo told DCMud.  He said the design features glass on top of a traditional base.  Materials include glass, concrete, and dark metals.

Parcel N at The Yards. Image: Robert A.M. Stern
Garofalo said the building's design also features a zig-zag pattern across the east face of the building.  "That was done so that in the future, when the rest of the parcel is being built out, it will create diagonal views up and down 4th street for those residential units."

Designers anticipate one and two-bedroom units that Garofalo called "standard DC-sized," and don't foresee any micro-units.  "There is some debate about it, but I doubt that is going to be included," he said.

Parcel N at The Yards. Image: Robert A.M. Stern
Washington D.C. real estate development news

Your Next Place

The awesome penthouse of a breathtaking boutique building, this unit is like a plum-sized diamond crazy-glued to the top of a grapefruit-sized ruby.  A two-level masterpiece of a condo, this place has ceilings that are super high (insert your own "legalized marijuana" joke here), immaculate hardwood floors (if I ever become a male stripper, Immaculate Hardwood is going to be my stage name), and recessed lighting (uh ... I got nothing.).

The designer kitchen sports stainless steel appliances, Silestone counters, and a breakfast bar that's perfect for flinging junk mail onto (no one eats breakfast anymore except for babies and retirees).  Upstairs, are the bright, wide bedrooms, all of which have dramatic views.  But the real highlight is the private rooftop terrace.  If I lived in this place, I'd rent the indoor rooms out as storage compartments and just live out here all the time.  With over six hundred square feet of patio space, you could probably land a helicopter out here, though there's a good chance it might collapse the roof.  If you decide to try it out, make sure you tape it for me.

The building is only a block from Meridian Hill park, still the best place in the city to drift off to sleep on a blanket on a warm summer day and wake up to a homeless person frantically touching himself while looking at you through a gap in the hedges.  (True story.)  It's also right between two metro stations, so you can alternate between the two and make your morning commute, like, three percent less depressing.  Hey, with the retirement age rising steadily (according to one study, the average 40 year old today won't be able to stop working until 18 to 24 months past physical death), every little bit counts.

1435 Chapin Street NW 305
2 Bedrooms, 2 Baths

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thoreau Slept Here

by Beth Herman   

In his quest for an unembellished life, transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau took to the woods with perhaps a not-so-novel battle cry. "Our life is frittered away by detail," he famously wrote. "Simplify. Simplify."

In their pursuit of a renovation and addition to a 1950s modern house that would reflect a Thoreau-esque aesthetic, and also court the abundance of mature trees around their Arlington, Virginia property, homeowners Jed and Marie joined forces with award-winning architect Patrick Carter of Reve Design Studio to achieve their goal.

'The client had a 1 1/2-story house with a master suite, kitchen and living room on the first floor and a tiny hallway with two secondary bedrooms on the second," Carter said of the 1,666 s.f. residence. "It was an open floorplan and though not really a formal space, there were no informal places for the kids to play." At certain times of the year, it also provided a view of the D.C. skyline.

Parents of two young children, Jed grew up in a modern Michigan home designed and built by an architect father. Marie is a card-carrying minimalist, according to Carter, and creating a modern-minimalist residence for a growing family that tipped its hat (or roof slope) to nature was a tall architectural order.

With a program to keep the master on the first floor and add 549 s.f. by reconfiguring the upstairs to maintain the two children's bedrooms, but add a family room, home office/music room (the family plays multiple instruments), and also retain a portion of the roof deck as a second floor balcony, Carter reached out to Mike Madden and John Page of Madden Corporation (construction) and Andrew Greene of Potomac Woodwork. A prodigious use of custom millwork came to define the new space, including a strong display of sandblasted rift-cut oak door panels between the family room and office/music room.

"Sandblasting eats away at the soft grain and leaves a physical texture - not just a visual one," Carter explained. The result of a "tricky" treatment in the drywall, when the closet doors are closed there are five equal segments: two wood and three wall.

With the design driven largely by Marie's need to compartmentalize and eliminate clutter, the house, which had virtually no storage, received a series of ample closets with double doors in the new space. Keeping the rooms open, furnishings are sleek and spare, including designs by LeCorbussier, Marcel Bruer and Charles and Ray Eames. And because you're up in the trees, Carter explained, keeping a clean color palette was imperative to draw attention out to the home's exterior. To that end white oak flooring, originally found on the first level, is carried through upstairs, along with pristine white walls and ceiling.

Room with a view
"Because the house is on a hill in the woods, and there's no yard, having a way to be outside was important. We wanted to keep that outdoor space on the second floor," Carter said of the now Ipe-decked balcony with tongue-in-groove cedar ceiling, citing the tree house effect as a key design component. Double-paned, low-E floor-to-ceiling windows, operable at the bottom and at full length on the ends, give the effect of "stepping out into the trees," as does the bay that cantilevers out, extending beyond the building's main box envelope.

With Jed an Air Force Academy graduate, the idea to represent the roof line as an inverted wing also provided the opportunity for a Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie-style moment inside the home. As the roof butterflies with the low point at the center of the house, the occupants' experience of the space is compressed, beginning with the 8-foot. ceiling height, and then swept up and out through the expansive glass, where the ceiling is 10 feet.

On the exterior, bronze accents and siding in muted green tones - specifically Benjamin Moore Nantucket Gray and Celery Salt - harmonize with the surrounding Evergreens and other arbors. Carter worked to preserve the existing 1950s brick and matched its natural-hued mortar with the exterior paint choices so not to create additional maintenance issues for the homeowners.

Cable rails, creating an open and closed railing system, were a device to open up the outdoor space as much as possible. Though the house is in the woods, there are neighbors on either side and across the street. "It was a balance of privacy and openness, of taking advantage of the views and still allowing privacy if you're out on the deck," Carter explained.

Showing you the door

Recalling that the first time he went to the Arlington house a solid wall atop a brick wall prevented him from finding the front door, opening the front to engage the street was paramount for the architect. "It was a little foreboding and unapproachable," Carter said, identifying a rhythm of open and closed cable railing systems that now punctuate the building.

Seinfeld and I

With a nod to the episode where Jerry's new girlfriend, a victim of capricious lighting, looked alternately angelic and haggard, Carter's lighting tenets include horizontal lighting as opposed to direct, overhead, which he firmly eschews. "Some architects tend to fill a room with recessed lights, somewhere in the middle, which is not always flattering when they shine down on you," he explained, adding the key is to light the room's perimeter so it bounces off the walls for a gentler result.

Delving into his architecture philosophy, the professed closet Frederick Law Olmsted said the way he thinks about work is in terms of something "subtractive.

"A lot of architects think about design as additive," he explained. "They say you're creating a building on the land, so you're adding something to it. But when I get into design, it's a lot like pushing and pulling of volumes so you're breaking the box - carving out spaces. In this project you see it on the front porch and how it works with the bay window above above that protrudes. On the second floor the deck is recessed."

Citing a personal mantra and phrase, "levels of 'insidedness'," as a student Carter recalls an architecture professor who told him a door is more than a hole in the wall. "It's all about approach and that level of 'insidedness,'" he affirmed. "Are you inside when you climb the stairs to the front porch? Are you inside when you cross the threshold of that beam and column? What about when you're covered but then you take a step to the right and you're not? Architecture is about creating a progression - a series of stills." 

Photos courtesy of Paul Burk

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

10 Questions with ... Jim Graham


From his leadership at the Whitman-Walker clinic through the darkest days of the AIDS crisis, to his days teaching at GW and Georgetown Law, to his work on the City Council, Jim Graham has been one of the most influential - and thanks to his trademark glasses and bow ties, most recognizable - pillars of DC cultural life for going on four decades.

1.  What's a typical weekday for you?

Start emails at about 7:30 AM, work until 8 or 9 PM

2.  What or who is your biggest influence?

3.  What neighborhood do you live in?
Adams Morgan

4.  What is your biggest DC pet peeve?
Gum chewing and ballpoint pen clicking

5.  What is the #1 most played song on your iPod?
(1) "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," from "Dreamgirls." (Jennifer Hudson)
(2)  "Jesus Is The Best Thing," Rev. James Cleveland
(3)  "Symphony No. 5," Gustav Mahler

6.  Favorite DC haunt?
Ben’s Chili Bowl    
7.  What's your favorite thing to do on a Sunday afternoon?

8.  If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

9.  If you couldn't be a councilman, what would you be?
Law professor

10.  Name one thing most people don't know about you.
I am a naturalized citizen.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Your Next Place

This corner duplex in the exclusive steel-and-glass tower of 22 West is one of the finest units in a building full of very fine units.  You enter into a long, swanky foyer; I like a foyer, as it gives you a little half-beat to transition from "out there" to "in here."  Like if you go to a party at a place with a foyer you can do that thing where you pretend to be taking off your coat or whatever but you're actually just dawdling and asking the host in hushed tones, "is my ex here yet?  How do they look?  Bad?  How bad?  Like 'they should get their apartment tested for radon gas' bad?  God, that makes me happy."

Farther in, you enter the stunning lofted two-story-tall living room that opens onto a private garden (!).  Though the pied a terre is somewhat common in high-end New York places, you rarely see this sort of thing in DC.  (In that way it's similar to European models, and non-Dad jeans.)  The gourmet kitchen counters are nonstop Carrera marble, thus insuring you'll end up standing helplessly puzzled in the middle of the kitchen several times a week, because putting dirty dishes on Carrera marble is just insane.  There's even a guest bedroom on the main level that also opens onto the private garden, so when your friends visit you can really subtly rub their faces in your success.

Upstairs, the lofted second level features a truly luxurious master bedroom suite, with its own small living room area and a huge, Vegas-style bathroom.  If this was your bedroom, you could absolutely never have to go downstairs except to get more ice once in a while and sarcastically ask your teenage children, as they play Xbox and sext their peers, "haven't you moved out yet?"  There's a separate gated entrance, so you can avoid the requisite stop-and-chats with the other tenants (can't put a price on that), and a rooftop pool for the building's use where you can go and ogle your neighbors' stretch marks and wonder how THAT sleazy-looking guy can afford to live in the building.  (He can't; it's me, and I've snuck in just to use the pool.  Go ahead and rat me out, but if you ever want to sell your place and have an open house, I'll write that I came and saw a four-inch-long silverfish in the kitchen.)

1177 22nd Street Northwest #1-A
2 Bedrooms, 2 Baths

Thursday, December 13, 2012

DC's Massive Pipeline Project Being Rethought

Area watersheds.  Image: DC Water
Billions of dollars in spending set aside for a massive pipeline project to keep polluted DC water out of area waters could get delayed and re-channeled to more decentralized infrastructure like rain gardens, rainwater harvesting, trees and rain barrels - that is, if DC's independent water authority gets its way.

The sea change in the city's 20-year timeline for cleaning up area rivers will happen only if DC Water can renegotiate a 2005 federal decree to build the full tunnel system.  That consent decree from the Environmental Protection Agency emerged out of a lawsuit over DC's management of runoff in which several environmental groups were plaintiffs.

A decision on the future flow of the city's $4.6 billion Clean Rivers Project could come in the next week or so, a spokeswoman with the city's water authority, The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority, or DC Water, told DCMud this week.

"It might shift to a more green solution, or it might be a hybrid of the two: green and gray," DC Water spokeswoman Pamela Mooring told DCMud.  Green infrastructure, here, refers to infrastructure that absorbs or uses water before it enters the sewer system in the first place.  Gray solutions refer to engineering to deal with runoff after it happens - in this case, a massive tunnel infrastructure project to build underground storage tanks for overflow.

The water authority is making efforts to re-focus the Clean Rivers Project for an eight-year pilot "Low-Impact Development" program.  The proposal could emphasize infrastructure like rain barrels and rain gardens instead of pipes that have been the mainstay of water channelling.  DC Water says that approach - if it proves successful - could render two future pipelines, planned to keep run-off out of the Rock Creek and Potomac waters, obsolete, possibly saving millions of dollars.  It notes that other cities including Kansas City and St. Louis have already experimented with similar versions of green infrastructure.

Blue Plains Treatment Plant. Image: DC Water
DC Water says revising the plan could save rate-payers millions of dollars and slash $120 from the monthly water bill increases forecast by the end of the decade.

Old System, Old Problem

Regardless, consensus holds that the city must do something about its dirty water problem.  About one third of DC's water system was built in the 1800's, before pipe systems separated storm water, or run-off from non-permeable surfaces, from sewage.  That part of the system is called a combined sewer system (CSS), and when heavy rains like those from Hurricane Sandy hit the low-lying city, the CSS can't handle all the water and dumps it - along with sewage - into area watersheds, reducing water oxygen levels and killing wildlife at 53 documented places.

A portion of the pipeline system planned for the Anacostia River is already under construction.  In 2011, DC Water awarded a $330 million contract to a joint proposal from Traylor brothers-Skanska-JayDee (TSJD) to build the first part of the system.  The pipe, 23 feet in diameter, would be laid 100 feet underground and extend 12,500 feet from southwest DC, along the Potomac and under the Anacostia to about RFK Stadium.  Slated for completion in January, 2018, the massive system will hold dirty water from the CSS until it can be piped to the Blue Plains Treatment Plant for processing in dryer weather.  Of the scale of the project, DC Water General Manager George Hawkins called it "absolutely huge." "The machine our teams will use to build these tunnels is the size of a football field," and needs to be assembled underground.
Image: courtesy Mike Bolinder,

Riparian Repair - "Not a Zero Sum Game"

Although he supports a low-impact development approach, Anacostia Riverkeeper Mike Bolinder said it's an approach that he supports in combination with the full, planned tunnel system.  "In general I love the idea of green infrastructure, but there is a consent decree in place."

Bolinder said yearly sewage overflow into all three DC watersheds amounts to 2.5 billion gallons.

On the money question, Bolinder said the CSS under the city was built in the time of Abraham Lincoln, so it makes sense that replacing it will cost some money.  There is also the cost of maintaining and monitoring the efficacy of low-impact development.  "If they don't maintain rain gardens, they stop retaining stormwater," Bolinder said.  "Then we have the same system that we had beforehand, with a couple of rain gardens."

Washington D.C. real estate development news

Morning Real Estate Fix

Rockville town square to be redeveloped, finally (Greater Greater Washington)  Years after the rest of Rockville saw development take hold, and after many failed attempts, the gaping hole in the center is finally about to see its own construction.

Foreclosures starts lowest since 2006 (Wall Street Journal)  Foreclosure starts in November were 13% below October, for the lowest monthly start in 6 years.

Mortgage rates up after Fed announcement (Mortgage News Daily) A slight shift in the way the FRB approaches monetary policy played out as jittery banks raised rates slightly.

Davis Brody Bond digs in at St. Elizabeths (Architects Newspaper)  The architectural firm, chosen to build the St. Elizabeths pavilion, has created a subtle design for the historic property.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Arlington Adds Affordable Housing to Columbia Pike


An 83-unit mixed-use affordable housing complex built on the site of a Shell gas station in Arlington is set to break ground early next year, according to developer AHC, Inc.

"We're scheduled to start construction on February 1" said John Welsh, Vice President of the Multifamily Division at AHC, Inc.  "And we plan to have the building done in eighteen months."

The $13 million, six-story building is designed by Cunningham + Quill Architects and will include ground floor retail space and two levels of below-grade parking.  The building is designed around a central courtyard, and the retail space faces Columbia Pike.  Plans call for the building to be built on two adjacent parcels - one at 870 South Greenbrier, largely a surface parking lot and undeveloped scrubland, and one at 5511 Columbia Pike, the former site of the Shell station.  Though that parcel did require environmental remediation - mostly the excavation and removal of contaminated soil - Welsh says that the previous owner handled it before selling to AHC.

The project will be funded, in part, by a $6 million loan from the Arlington County Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF), and AHC's Multifamily Revolving Loan Fund, which consists of federally-funded Community Development Block Grants.  According to reports, 19 dwellings will be affordable to families making 50% of the AMI ($53,750 for a family of four), with the remaining 64 dwellings affordable to families earning 60% of the AMI ($64,500 for a family of four).

No word yet on who might occupy the retail space.  "Tiffany's turned us down," said Welsh, when asked about potential tenants.  "Just kidding."

Arlington, Virginia real estate development news

Morning Real Estate Fix

15-unit apartment in Petworth to become condo (Urban Turf)  4226 7th Street to become the latest condo conversion, by owner Goldstar Group.

What's in the zoning update?  Fewer parking minimums (Greater Greater Washington) Changes to the planned zoning update will remove some parking minimums for certain smaller projects and for downtown.

Bethesda residents balk at 7 story apartment project downtown (  The West Lane project has been criticized by neighbors as too tall for the area, despite being surrounded by taller projects.

70 I Street, SE, sells for $165m (JD Land) The building was one of three originally built by JPI as part of its Capitol Yards project.

National Housing Survey results (Fannie Mae) Things are improving in the housing market - at least as measured by consumer confidence.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Phase One of Southwest Waterfront Redevelopment All but Approved by Zoning Commission

Last night, the massive redevelopment of Southwest’s waterfront inched a couple of notches closer to reality. DC’s Zoning Commission held a proposed action hearing for the project’s first phase, approving information that had been newly submitted and asking no follow-up questions.

That sets up the $1.5 billion project, technically titled The Wharf and comprising 3.2 million square feet in total, for a final action hearing next month, which at this point should largely be a formality. After that, developers PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette will be in the clear to begin applying for permits and seeking construction financing.

This was a very short, perfunctory hearing. On November 14, the commission approved three out of the development’s four parcels for the second stage of the PUD process, which examines public benefits, architecture and design (the first stage, which looks at height, density and zoning issues, was approved late last year).

But the members had questions regarding the last parcel; most prominently, they worried that the residential building on 6th Street lacked direct entrances and looked unusually stark. In response, the developers changed the facades, pushing the residential building back five feet in order to allow for direct entry by residents.

“This is a significant improvement,” said Commissioner May, who’d expressed concern at last month’s meeting. “I’m pleased with this result.” The commissioners had no other questions.

That means all four parcels, each of which contains one or two buildings, have been approved—“knock on wood,” said Shawn Seaman, a PN Hoffman principal and project director for the development. The team has a lot to accomplish in the next few months, and the estimated start date has been pushed back a few months from earlier predictions. “We’re looking at a groundbreaking early in the second quarter of 2013,” said Seaman. 

This first phase of development will eventually bring 1.5 million square feet of retail, residential, hotel and office space to the area, along with four piers and several open spaces, including a three‐acre waterfront park. The Hoffman-Madison team sees the project as eventually matching internationally-known destinations like San Francisco's Embarcadero and Pike Place Market in Seattle.

Washington, D.C., real estate development news

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