Could Georgetown Handle Some More Modernism?

GM is no big fan of modern architecture. He thinks it has its place, but in a walkable urban community it often creates a dismal void. And for Georgetown in particular it presents a distinct problem: Georgetown’s primary competitive advantage over other retail districts is its sense of historical place. If it were to lose the appearance of a 19th century village it would become Clarendon without the Metro access.

But should it be a total prohibition? Can Georgetown incorporate more modernism into its built environment without losing its primary competitive advantage? GM thinks it can. And there’s a great example already here in Georgetown of how Modernism can be incorporated into Victorian architecture without overpowering the sense of historical place: Cady’s Alley.

Cady's Alley - Modernism

Cady’s Alley is an East Banc development between M St. and Cady’s Alley. It houses a variety of expensive furniture and design stores, a German-style cafe, and an “it” night club. It was pieced together by Anthony Lanier starting around 1998. It has been highly praised for bringing high-end life style to a previously rat infested alleyway.

Where it truly succeeds is in merging modern design with the pre-modern industrial buildings. The photo above is a good example of how clean and stark shapes sit smoothly on top of centuries old foundations.

Cady's Alley

The interior space is decidely modern as well. Light and airy spaces with open stairwells and walls of glass. All encased in 150 year old brick buildings.

Perhaps the key element to Cady’s Alley’s design success is Lanier’s European roots. Anybody who has spent much time in the great cities of Europe knows that places like Lanier’s hometown of Vienna are much better than we are at retrofitting modern styles to ancient architecture. Moreover, they are full of the the tiny alleyways like Cady’s Alley filled to the gills with shops and cafes.

And speaking of cafes, the whole enterprise would be a failure without one. And on that front the development succeeded with flying colors:

Leopold's Cafe

Sitting in Leopold’s Kafe Konditorei it is easy to fool yourself into thinking you’ve slipped off to old Wien for a kaffee and brotchen.

So do you think Cady’s Alley shows the way towards incorporating modern design without effacing history? Or are modernism’s faults too glaring to allow mar our neighborhood’s strongest asset? Maybe the Apple Store should have tried to move there instead…

3 Comments

Filed under Architecture

3 responses to “Could Georgetown Handle Some More Modernism?

  1. CRJ

    Excellent observations, and smart to use Cady’s Alley as the example. It is Anthony Lanier at his best, and you are right, too, about the Apple store. If only they’d moved to Cady’s they would have been open for a year or two already! Who knows if they’re even still opening at all…? Maybe you do.

  2. GM

    I haven’t heard anything recently on the Apple store. I don’t believe they’ve filed their final plans for OGB review. They’ve got to tear down the old French connection building and build the new structure. The new structure is not overly ambitious, so it shouldn’t take too long to construct.

    I doubt it’ll be open for business before the end of 2010.

  3. Pingback: West v. East, round 1 « Glass and Cobstones

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