- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2005

Numerous building cranes swinging over Washington’s rooftops testify to the wave of development now overtaking the city. Nearly 25 million square feet of new construction, estimated to total $6.2 billion in land and building costs, is currently under way in the District, according to the nonprofit Washington, D.C. Marketing Center.

With this boom have come signs of growing architectural sophistication in office and residential buildings being finished this fall. Washington may not be ready for Frank Gehry, but the city is showing a more confident attitude toward architecture as bold, glass-and-metal facades rise alongside more traditional masonry frontage.

Developers and building owners seem more willing to take a risk on distinctive design as a way of standing out in the increasingly competitive real estate market. “There is definitely a growing sensitivity to architecture in the city,” says developer Brian Coulter of The JBG Companies. “We are stepping things up in terms of increasing the quality of design.” Mr. Coulter points to JBG’s recent hiring of British superstar Richard Rogers, who co-created the Pompidou Center in Paris, to design a 130-foot-tall office building at 51 Louisiana Ave., NW, at the foot of Capitol Hill. The height of the building has raised objections from Capitol security officials, but the developer hopes to unveil a design this fall.

West of the Capitol, Michael Graves, the postmodernist Princeton, N.J., architect famous for his teapots, has designed the 351,000-square-foot annex to the 1952 E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse at Pennsylvania and Constitution avenues in Northwest. Topped by barrel-vaulted roofs, the red-trimmed, seven-story addition will be occupied this fall.

An edgier federal building being completed later this fall is by the 2005 winner of architecture’s top honor, the Pritzker Prize. Thom Mayne of the Los Angeles firm Morphosis, has played up the mission of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Suitland by dividing its headquarters into a satellite-dish-topped operations building and underground office wing.

Back in downtown Washington, the blocks around the World Bank headquarters now boast some of city’s sleekest and most modern facades in the city. On Pennsylvania Avenue at 19th Street, the International Monetary Fund is putting the finishing touches on its newly completed second headquarters, designed by the New York firm Pei Cobb Freed with a prismlike bay of glass.

Across the street at 1875 Pennsylvania Ave., the 13-story office building by Shalom Baranes Associates, a Georgetown architecture firm, is nearly sheathed in a striking skin of glass and metal. It will become the home of law firm Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering next spring.

Baranes is also responsible for designing the Atlantic Building, an amalgam of preserved historic structures and modern 10-story office block now under way at 10th and F streets Northwest, next to Ford’s Theatre. It will be interesting to see how new relates to old as the project nears completion late this year.

K Street’s canyon continues to be spruced up with new buildings. Nearing completion at the corner of 16th street is an 11-story office block by two Washington-based firms, RTKL and WDG Architecture, which promises to add some dignity. The Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham law firm will take over most of the building in early 2006.

Further east at 12th and K streets Northwest, is the newly completed, 133-unit condo building designed by BBGM Architects & Interiors in brick and precast concrete. The firm also is responsible for the new Embassy Suites hotel on 10th Street — between K Street and New York Avenue in Northwest — that’s due to open in November. Architect Nick Giordano says the 14-story, deco-inspired hotel will have a contemporary interior with a 3,000-square-foot restaurant.

Next to the hotel, the vacant blocks once the site of the District’s old convention center are being turned into a 1,220-vehicle parking lot and outdoor art display while proposals are developed for a new mixed-use complex on the site.

London-based architect Foster and Partners, now revising the canopy design for the Old Patent Building, has teamed with Baranes to come up with a plan for offices, restaurants, retail and housing. According to developer Howard Riker of Hines, design alternatives for the site will be made public next month.

Late October will bring the unveiling of the city’s most anticipated design, the proposed Nationals ballpark by architect Joe Spear of Kansas City-based HOK Sport — who, when reached by phone, wouldn’t comment on the details.

The housing market continues to boom with condominiums rising in neighborhoods all over town. Open-plan “lofts” are the latest craze, prompting local architects to push the envelope with more creative designs than have been seen in years past.

Responsible for some of the most contemporary condos is the District firm Eric Colbert and Associates in Northwest. Among Mr. Colbert’s latest projects is the Rutherford, a 64-unit building on 13th and M streets Northwest that will be completed in November. Rhythmic bay windows and panels of brick promise to animate the facades.

Also on 13th Street, across from the Rutherford, the gabled, brick apartment building called the Rialto looks like it might have been built in the early 1900s. Silver Spring-based Torti Gallas and Partners designed the structure, which will be occupied in November, to complement the neighborhood’s older apartment buildings.

In Columbia Heights, the architect adopted a similar approach to the 130-unit Park Triangle apartments. Scheduled for completion in December, its cornices and brick facades are meant to complement the renewed Tivoli Theater on nearby Park Road.

While preservationists in other cities are fighting to save their 20th-century modern buildings, Washingtonians prefer to cover them up. A good example is the conversion of the Congressional Quarterly headquarters on 22nd Street Northwest (between Georgetown and Dupont Circle) into 136 condominiums. Hickok Warner Cole Architects encased the modernist concrete structure in a traditional wrapper of brick and stone, a transformation that will be completed next month.

Near the Potomac River, on 12th Street Southwest, the same architects expanded and remodeled the old Blue Cross/Blue Shield building for JBG into a neoclassical pile of granite and precast concrete. The 520,000-square-foot complex is being completed this month, but has yet to be leased.

Also, during the next few months:

• The National Building Museum will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a gala party on Oct. 29 followed by the inaugural L’Enfant Lecture on City Planning and Design in November. The museum will finally unveil its own holdings with the exhibit, “Cityscapes Revealed: Highlights From the Collection,” opening Dec. 3.

• Kicking off the fall season, the Washington chapter of the American Institute of Architects is sponsoring its annual Architecture Week, beginning today and continuing through Sept. 18. On the roster of events are tours of loft apartments and the delayed underground Capitol Visitors Center — scheduled to open next fall — for those eager to experience the city’s newest architecture.

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