Almost four months after the initial design had been approved — but returned by the Commission of Fine Arts for further refinement — the partnership of the Levy Group, the Georgetown Company and the Four Seasons presented a new design to the ANC at a packed meeting on Sept. 6. Most of those present appeared awed.
The challenge was to redesign the luxury condo residences in the heating plant’s massive abandoned shell at the corner of 29th and K Streets NW “to reflect more the industrial history of the original structure and make it less suburban,” prominent Georgetown developer Richard Levy told the commissioners. “The CFA requested that the architects return with a bolder and less literal reinterpretation of the existing building, calling for a clear distinction between that which is being preserved and that which is being reconstructed.”
That is where top architects earn their pay. In this case, the “starchitects” are David Adjaye, designer of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo and two D.C. public libraries, and landscape designer Laurie Olin, who worked on the Washington Monument grounds, Bryant Park in New York, the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and a park in Houston that drained perfectly after Hurricane Harvey.
Olin explained how they looked again at some of the basic elements of the industrial edifice — the rugged slabs, the artifacts (like conveyor belts), the canal nearby — and incorporated them into a redesigned exterior with water troughs and steel-like structures in unexpected places.
“We used the principles of cool,” said the (very cool himself) Adjaye. “I studied the picture of the frame of the building before the mortar and bricks to see its form, to reveal what the building’s nature was. Then we applied new construction materials with the old ones.”
The ANC approved the new design. Now it’s on to the next round of approvals.