Archive for the ‘Warehouses’ Category

Warehouse follow-up

August 11, 2009
GPO. Image from takomabibelot on Flickr.

GPO. Image from takomabibelot on Flickr.

Noah Kazis responds to my critique of his GPO-block analysis.

All in all, I don’t think we’re that far apart in our opinions – something I think Noah highlights quite well.  A few points:

First, Kazis notes that the old warehouses from Minneapolis I cited as exemplary all feature street-level retail:

It’s still a pleasure to look at buildings like the ones Block points to in Minneapolis (although I would point out that unlike in D.C., those have ground-floor retail, making them “hulk over the street” less).

This is absolutely true, but I’d also point out that none of them were designed with street retail in mind.  The first floor is not usually at the same grade as the sidewalk, it’s raised up by a handful of steps.  Many of the bars along 1st Avenue are ‘basement’ bars.  The point, however, is that despite ideal conditions, those types of buildings can be successfully re-used.

Regarding government ownership of the site, I was surprised to see that DC owned all the land in those parking lots.  I had assumed that the Feds owned it.  However, my point was simply that divestment of government land takes more time than transactions between private parties.  I’m not sure the choice of DC USA is a good example, as that development was a long time in the making.

Kazis also makes some excellent points about scale, and the different interpretations you can have from different frames of reference. Indeed, I think our differing conclusions about the block in question can be chalked up to different scales.  There’s no doubt at the pedestrian’s scale, the experience around the GPO is dull at best.  At a wider scale of 3-5 blocks (or, what might be a reasonable walking radius from a transit station), the development patterns in the area are far more legible and easily attributed to broader issues in the area.

I’m also relieved to know that Kazis’ reference to bulldozing our history was not a literal one:

I quite agree that the GPO building will remain. When I wrote that we need to figure out how not to “bulldoze the past,” I wasn’t talking about specific buildings. At the end of the day, architecture matters much less to me than use. The core GPO building will survive, in somewhat altered form, but it won’t be industrial anymore. The Gales School, I imagine, won’t last at all, much less as a homeless shelter. The block, like many blocks before it, will be subsumed into D.C.’s extremely monotonous (though with many great individual buildings) downtown.

This gets at a much bigger discussion.  Here in DC, numerous folks have termed it ‘office sprawl.’   This dispersion of the traditional CBD functions over a wider area is both a blessing and a curse of DC’s height limit.  It’s worth noting that Minneapolis’ downtown has tons of surface parking lots in key locations.  It’s also worth noting that the warehouse district there has evolved a great deal over time.  As a kid growing up there, most of it was still semi-industrial space – available cheap, used by artists and as start-up space.  Now, many of those buildings have been renovated as luxury lofts or office space.  Uses have evolved a great deal over the past 20 years, as has the level of investment.  That’s a constant of urban life and adaptive re-use.  Acknowledging the shortcomings of such changes and mitigating those effects is the best we can do.

Again, I don’t think we’re that far apart.  It’s always a good discussion to have.