Monday, November 26, 2012

Demolition and Preservation at Former Chinese Embassy

Drive by the former embassy of the People’s Republic of China on Connecticut Avenue and you’ll see an interesting sight: a building façade propped up by an elaborate set of braces, next to another building undergoing wholesale demolition.
Much demolition has already occurred. But the facade is being preserved as part of the Sheridan-Kalorama Historic District, and will be incorporated into a new building on the site that’s been designed by Esocoff and Associates.

While the embassy proper decamped for Van Ness Street in 2009, the new Connecticut Avenue building will serve as the embassy’s residential and consular building, containing 136 mostly two-bedroom apartments for diplomatic staff, and some office space.

The original embassy was actually composed of two distinct but connected buildings. The more historic structure at 2310 Connecticut Avenue was built in the 1920s, and its façade is the one that’s being salvaged. The other structure, at 2300 Connecticut, was the hulking, largely unadorned building that most observers remember as the Chinese Embassy. It started out in the late 1940's as a hotel, but was turned into an embassy after Nixon’s visit to China in 1972.

Now, most of the latter building is being reduced to rubble. “I think one of the reasons we had unanimous community support was that removing a building that unappealing was a mitzvah—a good deed,” explained Philip Esocoff, adding that demolition of the newer building should be complete by the end of 2012.

But the older building has a different, more delicate story.  Braces have been utilized to preserve the two outside walls and strengthen them against wind while the building’s interior is removed. “We will cut away at the wall behind it, but we’ll have to do it carefully, by hand,” said Esocoff. “That’s a particular kind of process, saving a front wall: you don’t want to rip the building down inside because it might pull something off.”

Esocoff rendering of the new building's facade
Esocoff said the workers—part of Clark Construction team, unlike the previous Chinese construction crew in Cleveland Park —are salvaging some of the old bricks and ornamental metal balcony railings, which will be incorporated into the new structure. Though it will include an interior courtyard, the new building will fill in some of the empty space that lay above the old edifice's lobby and will therefore be largely the same size as the original set of buildings.

“I think it’ll be a very well-constructed building, a little higher quality than we might do on a standard apartment house because they plan on being there forever. It’ll be institutional grade,” said Escoff. “And this will really improve the vista as you come down from the bridge.”

Groundbreaking will occur after the first of the year, with the first step being an excavation of the property’s lower levels to include a parking garage.

Washington, D.C. real estate development news

Friday, November 23, 2012

Design for an Abled Life

by Beth Herman

Contracting polio as a child, Idaclaire Kerwin learned to make the most of every moment.

Commissioning interior designer JoAnn Zwally, ASID, of Ashton Design Group, who'd worked with Kerwin and husband Tom on previous residences, and Jonas Carnemark of Carnemark Design + Build (also a Kerwin design veteran), along with Carnemark Principal Michael Stehlick, the couple sought a residence that facilitated life with physical limitations but in which the accruing design was neither stark, ordinary nor clinical, and in fact was driven and enhanced by the challenge.

With a drive and determination reflected in her favorite color, a potent cinnabar, the almost life-long force in the League of Women Voters (now treasurer for the Arlington, Virginia chapter) was guided by Zwally to infuse a new apartment at Arlington's senior residential community, The Jefferson, with a strong color palette featuring cinnabar. The spicy hue both affirmed Idaclaire's bold spirit and served as a unifying element. And because of her disability, issues of flow and "purpose" were tantamount to aesthetics.

"It was actually two apartments that had been made into one some years ago," Zwally said of the 2,036 s.f. space, "but it was really appalling the way it was - so much waste that needed reconfiguration." The idea was for the homeowner to able to traverse the space unimpeded, accordingly doorways were widened, site lines created and design logic was employed, so to speak, where she could move to and through a reimagined foyer, master bath, hallway, kitchen, master bedroom, home office and more.

Life design
Speaking to principles of handicap accessible design, Carnemark said while his goal was to create a user-friendly space, other components factored in as well.

"For me, as a designer, there is universal design, but it's nice to design for the the life of the home and for whomever is going to use it: grandparents and grandkids. We look at design as purposeful. And one objective was to open up the space and make it feel bigger," he said.

As the homeowners wanted something minimal without sacrificing coveted storage space, Carnemark included elements such as a pop-up counter and wall-mounted fold down cutting board next to the refrigerator where they could chop vegetables - geared for wheelchair use. Instead of cabinets, drawers contained dishes.

Designed as height-specific to accommodate Idaclaire, counters were lowered - the sink side is 33 inches and the cooktop area is 30 inches as opposed to a normal 36, and Siematic cabinetry, which adapts well to unconventional spaces, was employed.The refrigerator has a bottom freezer for easy access, and the cooktop has a halogen top which makes it easy to clean and maintain. A speed oven - combination oven and microwave - sits below it at a comfortable height for the homeowner.

"In addition to accessibility issues in the kitchen, we wanted to create a real contemporary look with a pop of color in the back," Carnemark said. To that end, Zwally selected a custom-painted piece of glass in cinnabar that was used as a substantial backsplash behind the cooktop, the color teased throughout the entire residence in furnishings, textiles, wall color, art and more.

In the curatorial-type dining room, a series of gritty, industrial photographs by Historical American Engineering Record photographer John T. "Jet" Lowe flank a Dakota Jackson dining table. Vintage fire-retardant chairs from the S.S. United States, a luxury passenger liner built at Newport News, Virginia in 1952, and described as the first sea-going vessel built in compliance with US Navy fireproofing guidelines."We had to cut down the legs of the table for it all to work, but it looks great," Zwally said.

A locomotive runs through it
A former senior railroad executive with the Norfolk Southern Railway, husband Tom desired a study/library that was borne of a bedroom on the other side of the dining room, replete with cherished items such as a piece of stained glass art replicating a train and an extensive collection of books. The study can double as a guestroom in the two-bedroom apartment. For his wife, a home office design, though smaller, with height-adjusted built-in console with wraparound counter that runs from patio to desk provides ample workspace for League of Women Voters business.

In the quest for enlarged, open space, Carnemark and Zwally eliminated an existing bath. While the clients were reluctant at first for resale purposes, they decided to focus more on their own comfort and joy, Carnemark recalled, adding he counsels clients to "do the things that really make them happy" for the best value in the long run. Accordingly the bathroom was removed and walls on both sides opened, creating a glass-shelved display area for the homeowners' many collections including pottery from Native American artists Joy Cain, Bob Lansing and Robert Silas. Storage spaces were conceived at this juncture to hold games and other items for visiting grandchildren.

In the existing foyer, walls were "offset and funky," according to Carnemark, who ended up aligning them to clearly define the space and help expand the kitchen.

"We weren't able to get rid of an entire wall, as we had to move some piping and in these buildings certain risers go from floor to ceiling that you cannot move, but we expanded as much as we could," he said, adding that a foyer niche with focal point for a vase was created when an adjacent pantry with sliding door was eliminated.

Creative controls
In reconfiguring the master bath, which went from 46 to 97 s.f. and is often a major issue for a disabled homeowner, thresholds were eliminated. To get the shower drain to work properly, the surrounding porcelain and glass mosaic tile floor was built up slowly, according to Carnemark. "There's a little bit of a ramp that rises up a level so we could back it down to the drain." A deep shower bench was calculated for a specific height, where the homeowner can sit and control the main and hand showers separately. Controls are deftly embedded in a knee wall next to the drawer base. The toilet was situated on a pedestal at a desirable height for the homeowner, who is not without some mobility. And when the homeowner exits the master bath toward the cinnabar-hued bedroom, a closet was relocated to the other side creating a long, open hallway for ease of movement.

Where lighting was concerned, Carnemark said one of the focuses was to provide a high level of contrast in task areas. Noting the process becomes a challenge in buildings like the Kerwins' because of concrete ceilings and floors, the designer said all too often the ceiling must be built down to hide recessed lighting or ductwork for exhaust fans. In the homeowner's dining room, in lieu of customary wire mold, the lighting track was extended farther along so that it met the wall. "This cleaned up the ceiling lines for flow," Carnemark said.

Citing his methodology for projects like the Kerwins', Carnemark noted he prefers to do things so that everything has a purpose. "If you drive the design that way, you can make it more beautiful on top, always considering how the flow (and function) works first and then filling in color, texture and light."

Said Zwally,"Jonas and I did everything together. In the beginning we came up with a lot of the same ideas, and others complemented each other. It was a real partnership."

Photos courtesy of Geoffrey Hodgdon and courtesy of CARNEMARK.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Zoning Commission Approves Hine School Redevelopment Project

Washington DC commercial real estate development newsObservers of the long-running saga that is the redevelopment of Capitol Hill’s Hine School can finally turn the page. Yesterday, DC’s zoning commission definitively approved the project’s PUD, which means developers Stanton-EastBanc can now move forward and focus on next steps: gathering financing and preparing for a groundbreaking next summer.

Hine School redevelopment by Stanton-Eastbanc, Capitol  Hill
Last night’s meeting was the project’s final action hearing. At a meeting last month, commissioners requested clarification on a number of mostly-small matters, like whether trucks would be limited to accessing the project’s loading docks by driving in rear-first. Stanton-EastBanc representatives submitted their responses—in the loading dock case, pointing out that the entire design would have to be altered in order to facilitate front-end loading—and the commissioners were satisfied.

The Hine School project—which will include residential units and ground floor retail in Capitol Hill’s busy Eastern Market area—has moved slowly since it was awarded to the developers September 2009. Intense community engagement has necessitated a bevy of meetings and consultations, and numerous revisions.

Washington DC commercial development - retail site for lease on Capitol Hill, Alex Golding
But the project’s community-engagement process has finally come to an end, and the developers are ready to move on. “We’re seeking financing for the project, and are starting that whole process of getting building permits,” explained Alex Golding, a senior associate with Stanton Development Company. He said that the partners started assembling construction documents and drawings some time ago in order to hit the ground running once the PUD was approved, and will be soliciting construction bids in early 2013. “We’re closing with the District [on the property] in July 2013 and hope to begin construction right after that,” he added.

Of course, not everything related to the project’s community aspects has been sewn up. Questions of where the Eastern Market flea market will be located are still unresolved. The market—which has been located on the Hine School site and is currently run by two different private entities—will temporarily operate on a closed 7th Street, but the city hasn’t yet approved that location as a permanent solution. To boot, questions of whether those private groups will continue to run the weekend markets, or whether the city should take them over, are still pending.

Washington, D.C., real estate development news

Your Next Place

This semi-detached Georgetown federal is a masterpiece of sophistication, sort of like a Paris Hilton DJ set, but the complete opposite.  Tall and clean-lined, it's also southfacing, so, unlike me as a child, it'll get plenty of warmth.

There's a huge, bright living room and a subdued study perfect for having a late night cigar with your pals while plotting a coup d'etat, or at least discussing fantasy football.  The formal dining room is elegant and spacious, and the kitchen sports high-end appliances and subtly sophisticated cabinets. The very fine washroom is wallpapered with ornate ink-drawn birds, and it's so nice that you'll basically have to drive to 7-11 every time you need to go to the bathroom, it's just far too disgusting of a thing to do in a room this nice.  Upstairs, the bedrooms have personality plus, and there's a fourth bedroom en suite that could also be used as a library, depending on if you own any books and/or are literate.

And then there's the breathtaking custom-built flagstone garden.  A wide flagstone-lined terrace with a sunbathing area and stairs leading down to an intimate firepit area with stone benches, I'm pretty sure this is the nicest backyard I've ever seen.  It's probably nicer than ninety percent of the actual houses I've been in.  You could have a nice sideline renting the yard out so guys could propose to their girlfriends there.  There's even a fireplace, so if she says no, he can fling the ring directly into the flames.  Even if he kept the receipt, the store probably wouldn't take it back anyway, because of the clinging reject stench.

3053 Q Street NW
4 Beds, 3.5 Baths

Monday, November 19, 2012

New Renderings of MoCo's Tallest Building


After building the tallest building in Montgomery County, JBG is putting the final touches on plans for an even taller building next door.  JBG's North Bethesda Market II (NoBe II), a second phase to the development that built the county's tallest structure, will add 400 new residences, 120,000 s.f. of retail, and a 150,000-s.f. office building when completed.  Renderings, completed by ArchiBIM, show the distinctive building rising above the 24-story tower now on the site.  Although a timeline has not been determined, JBG and co-developer MacFarlane Partners have been hoping to break ground on the 4.4 acre site in the first half of next year, producing an iconic, 26-story (300 ft) apartment building designed by Studios Architecture.

Montgomery County approved the building back in March.  The project furthers the goals of increased density and design along Rockville Pike, a goal that got a shot in the arm with the recent release of plans across the street for a replacement for the White Flint mall.  JBG owns more land to the south and west of the two sites, but for now, NoBe II is its sole focus in the area.  NoBe II will be completed in one phase, taking 2-to-3 years once construction starts.

Montgomery County real estate development news

Ward 7 Gets a $10 Million Amenity in New Tennis Center

Image: courtesy Clark Nexsen
A multi-million dollar tennis and education center opened Saturday off of East Capitol Street in DC's Ward 7.  The complex adds a big amenity to an area of the District with one of the city's highest percentage of vacant or abandoned space, but that has lately seen new developments.

The Washington Nationals in July began work on a youth baseball academy very nearby at Fort Dupont Park.  In 2008, developers Donatelli and Blue Skye were selected to develop a city-owned lot at the nearby, Ward 7 hub of Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road, NE.  Work on the $65 million mixed-use retail and residential project started this summer.

New Courts at Stoddert Pl SE. Photo courtesy WTEF
These developments mean that land in Ward 7, which, according to the Office of Planning, has 32 percent vacant or abandoned space compared to Ward 1's six percent, is seeing more construction.

The force behind the $10 million project is the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation (WTEF), an organization that specializes in a unique combination of tennis training and tutoring to serve school-aged youth from East DC who might not otherwise get tennis lessons or school help. Clark Nexsen is the architect on the project.

The new center sits on 7.5 acres rented under a 40-year lease with the District Department of Parks and Recreation.  It is located at the Benning Stoddert Recreation Center at 200 Stoddert Place SE,  and includes nine outdoor tennis courts.  The 64,800 s.f. of indoor space includes six indoor courts, a community room, four classrooms, offices, and a 50-seat computer training room.   The site, which already had a field, a playground, and some tennis and basketball courts, also got enhancements, including lighting and better paths.

Image: courtesy Clark Nexsen
"It is envisioned as an additional community resource," Frank Kaye, architect with Clark Nexsen, told DCMud.  He said designs for the facility considered how to save trees, improve existing spaces, and how to best facilitate overall project goals of tennis training and mentoring.  Designers met with community leaders, as well as with the United States Tennis Association to make sure the facilities met their guidelines.

Eleni Rossides, director of WTEF, said fundraising for the center began during the recession, but that donors pulled through to raise almost all of the money for the project privately. 

Photo courtesy WTEF
In addition to work at 23 schools, WTEF had, until now, worked out of a facility on K Street NW and bused kids there from east DC.   With the new facility, students in WTEF's fee-free programs will be able to get tennis training and tutoring in their own neighborhood. Rossides said the center will be open to programming for adults and seniors, organizational collaborations, and someday maybe advisory neighborhood commission (ANC) meetings.

"For us, we really looked at this as a family community center and we really hope that it can help to transform this community," Rossides said.

Washington D.C. real estate development news

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Net Positive by Pigment

Q and A with Miche Booz 
by Beth Herman

Swiss-born and French bred (that's bred, not bread), Miche Booz of Miche Booz Architect spent a peripatetic childhood navigating the neighborhoods of Jordan, Pakistan and Indonesia.

With a developmental economist father (also an admitted closet interior designer who coveted Danish Modern), and writer/ illustrator/ painter mother, Booz grew up in the shadow of iconic architecture like the Taj Mahal and Eiffel Tower, and without television, which left considerable time to cultivate his own artistic DNA. Though the young Miche trained his pencils and brushes on favorite military tanks and boats, as an architect he has turned his attention to painterly (and/or colored pencil) executions of design, much in the manner of Le Corbusier. DCMud spoke with Booz about his art and how he has applied it to his latest project: a 2,000 s.f., 3-bedroom, 2-bath net positive residence scheduled for momentary groundbreaking in Clarksville, Maryland.
DCMud: Why do you draw and paint as opposed to using 21st Century technology?

Booz: I went to art school and got into watercolor, and liked the medium a lot, before I came to architecture at age 32. It's not the only medium I use, though I find it the most evocative and it helps me design and understand things in a more tactile way. There's something that goes on when you actually have a colored pencil or a brush in your hand that connects you to the architecture and helps you work out design solutions.

DCMud: When does technology come into play?

Booz: We're an office of four, and the three others here use it more than I do: AutoCAD and SketchUp. I don't design on the computer at all.

DCMud: So with all that, how did the Clarksville net positive project come into your orbit?

Booz: I've known Ed Gaddy, a solar energy engineer for spacecraft, since 1980. We've had dialogues over the years about doing an energy efficient house. A few years ago he found a 1 1/2-story Cape three minutes' walk from where he works. As an environmentalist, among other things he wanted to walk to work to conserve his carbon footprint.

DCMud: Describe the property.

Booz: It's 1.2 acres on a south-facing lot. The existing house was not very energy-efficient, and we determined we could not effectively renovate it into such. There is that truism that the greenest house you build is the one you don't tear down; in this case we'd have had to disassemble it so much it would've been akin to tearing it down. That said, we are actually keeping the first floor deck and the basement underneath for storage, and building a platform with a sculptural, prismatic object that we're putting the solar array on. The house will be built next to it and is a composition of two squares: A public square and a private square. The kitchen/pantry/living area has a taller roof, and then bedrooms and bathrooms are under the lower roof.

DCMud: What about the net positive aspect of this house?

Booz: It may be a little tongue-in-cheek, but Ed's special goal is to have the most energy-efficient house in Maryland -- he's going for the trifecta of certifications. He wants to have a Passive House (Passive House Institute U.S., or PHIUS) - a German performance-based certification program whose principles have a long history in the U.S. that addresses air tightness, insulation and energy use. PHIUS is less interested in materials and site strategies than LEED and Living Building Challenge are. But he's also going for LEED Platinum, and for the Living Building Challenge.

DCMud: Rather ambitious objectives. With all of that, how are you going to achieve net positive -- to build a home that produces more energy than it uses?

Booz: For one thing, we rotated the house directly south, which is one reason for building a new one, for purposes of solar gain. It has architecturally integrated solar panels, and we also have a couple of thermal solar panels on top of a shed behind the house for hot water.

The exterior is concrete block and corrugated metal. The roof is a standing seam Galvalume, and it all sits on a polished concrete slab.

DCMud: Tell us about insulation.

Booz: It's going to use very little energy to heat and cool with highly insulated walls, roof and slab insulation: R-Values are 68, 100 and 38, respectively. In fact the R-Value of the Zola window glazing is 11.1 -- comparable to the R-Value of 3.5-inch thick fiberglass batt that's found in many homes.

The one thing this house does is avoid thermal bridging, where you have structure or components of the house that conduct either heat or cold through the wall out into the environment or from the environment back in. It takes an insulated covering that wraps not only up and down the walls and around the roof, but down in front of the foundation wall and under the footing, so the footing doesn't touch the earth. It's sitting on insulation. The entire house is wrapped, which is different than the way most houses are built.

In fact one of the challenges was finding an HVAC system that's small enough to heat and cool this house as it takes so little. We're using a Mini-Split Mitsubishi system, which is the smallest one they make. There's an ERV and 0.6 air changes per hour -- an extremely tight envelope

DCMud: From your paintings it appears there is extensive fenestration, including a huge south-facing exposure with all that this can imply.

Booz: We have high performance windows facing south that offer shading, and an innovative system of translucent exterior roller shades that automatically deploy over these windows to prevent overheating.

DCMud: Interesting you should talk about these key exterior shades, as we did a story with Mark McInturff where they figured prominently into the design.

Booz: The architect who has influenced me most strongly is Mark McInturff, under whom I worked for nearly six years. His language is contemporary architecture and he has a wonderful sense of design. His buildings are light-filled and sustainable, and also very beautiful -- he has a wonderful sense of color and proportion and extreme attention to detail. With his work, the closer you get the better it looks, as opposed to a lot of modern architecture where you get the Gestalt right up front but the closer you look, the more banal it gets.

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