The Tsarchitect had a great reminder on the importance of the basics today – linking to a video from William Whyte, from a video version of his great work, the Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.
I hadn’t watched the video since graduate school – thanks for the reminder. It’s well worth a viewing.
A couple of items related to the National Capital Planning Commission:
JDLand had an item a while back about their largely favorable reaction to the 11th Street Bridges project – with the exception of the streetcars, of course.
However, they are not at all happy with DDOT’s decision to choose a streetcar system with overhead wires, and the document goes into detail on how this works against federal interests, as well as listing what non-overhead-wire streetcar options exist out there (none in the US so far). Their conclusions (page 22):
“Recommends that DDOT not include streetcar system components for overhead wires as part of the 11th Street Bridge project and that DDOT prepare an environmental impact statement for its proposed District wide streetcar system that examines potential impacts on the L’Enfant City and Georgetown and that includes an analysis of propulsion systems that do not require the use of overhead wires.
“Advises DDOT that the Commission does not support a streetcar system with overhead wires because it supports the unobstructed views to important landmarks along the city’s streets and avenues that are integral to the District’s unique character and result from the long-standing federal statutory prohibition against using overhead wires in Washington City (the L’Enfant City) and Georgetown.
“Encourages DDOT to pursue alternative propulsion technologies for the proposed streetcar system that do not require overhead wires in accordance with its January 24, 2008 commitment to include dual vehicle propulsion requirements in a solicitation package for the development and implementation of the broader streetcar system beyond the Anacostia and H Street/Benning Road corridors.”
Meanwhile, at GGW, Matt Johnson has a post up on potential freight rail bypasses of DC, triggered in part by safety concerns, and in part by the NCPC’s desire to remove the current rail rights of way though the District.
These aesthetic concerns shouldn’t be underestimated, but from my perspective, the minimal obstruction of streetcar wires isn’t worth the kind of opposition the NCPC is putting up. Even if you take wires as a negative (which I do not think is a given), the net results are certainly a positive for DC.
Modernism in DC
DCMud: Lacey has gotten attention inside DC, but also outside DC. What do you attribute that to?
AH: Yeah, I don’t know! (laughs). We designed it to get attention, that’s what you do. We’re not going to write a hit song and apologize, you want it to be played. Actually we’re getting more national than local attention. I’m a little disappointed with the local media, and I think it may be driven by sponsors, this very conservative southern town. You would think the Washington Post, as local media, should know what’s going on around here. We’ve seen the Lacey in New York blogs, LA blogs, and architecture blogs, and I’m always amazed how they find us. But they don’t have to find you here, we’re here, they should know what’s in their back yard.
On sustainable design:
DCMud: So green is not cheap, design is not cheap, how do you combine those two goods, and still make it affordable?
AH: Its hard, there are metropolitan cities, like NY would be the first, Chicago, San Francisco, LA, they have that. You put up a building anywhere in New York, they will still line up if its good. I think the DC culture, within the last 10 years has really changed, you see a lot more emphasis, not just on housing, but the restaurants, you see a lot more design, restaurants, bars, we’re getting there slowly but surely. We’re not very good at that, we just do it. There were so many ways to make the Lacy cheaper. But at the end of the day, the architect, the developer, have to be able to look back and be okay with it. The average life of a building is 25-30 years, we’d like to see the building there in a 100 years. Real estate is a long-term thing; we don’t do things for marketing purposes. With the whole green movement, nobody ever uses bad materials on purpose. Another way the AIA is using – you know when the record companies stopped using vinyl because it was no good – the same with the AIA, we achieved it in the Lacey, we’re doing it in a small residential project, you put a good project out there, people will follow.
On height limits and NIMBYs:
DCMud: Height restrictions and historic preservation?
AH: It’s partly that, but, no offense to attorneys, you do any work in DC, forget the ANC and historic preservation, but every other neighbor is an attorney. Its great to have pride in where you live, but people feel like they get to claim it, we see that all the time, we always feel like we don’t want to deal with it any more, but then we get a good client, who wants to do something different, and we say, okay, lets do this again. Its not historic preservation, I think its more the people in the neighborhoods that want to stop the process.
DCMud: Do you think the height limits are a good thing?
AH: I like them; I think you are most creative when you are challenged. DC is my favorite city, and you have New York for that. London, Paris, the scale is completely different, most European cities are like that. I like the height restriction where it is, we should just be a little more creative. We have suburbs to balance stuff out.