GM has lots of unpopular opinions. For instance, he thinks ketchup, mustard, and mayo are all terrible and ruin any sandwich or hot-dog they’re on. He thinks Wonderful Christmastime by Paul McCartney is good as far as Christmas pop tunes go. And-more relevant to today’s discussion-he thinks the West Heating Plant on 29th St. in Georgetown is an attractive building.
Of course it isn’t like most architecture in Georgetown. And perhaps for that reason alone most people hate it. When they elaborate on their hatred, it normally involves words like “looming” or “gargantuan”. GM thinks those are all features of what is in fact an attractive and muscular style. It shares Streamlined Moderne features you’d just as likely find in a 1940’s Buick. In fact, in many ways the building and the works it contains is itself like some gigantic mid-century V8 engine covered up with a giant hood:
Well love it or not, the West Heating Plant as we know now it is likely not long for this world. The group of investors led by Richard Levy that bought the building from the federal government have put out yet another design for the replacement of the building. And it appears that this one has a decent chance at being accepted.
GM is happy about this because of all the designs the group has put forward, this one is the one that most respects the current building for more than just its generous zoning envelope.
Here are the iterations of the design the group has put forward (all by the esteemed David Adjaye):
This first design from October 2013 kept the general shape of the building (as well as the 29th St. facade). But it was in essence a giant glass box. What appears to be a gauzy white facade on the south side would really have been a collection of shutters that the residents could simply leave open all the time. At night it would be a giant, bright wall of light (that is if the uber wealthy home owners ever actually stayed there).
Then several years later, partially in response to comments from the Old Georgetown Board, the group presented a starkly different design:
This would basically start from scratch and preserve nothing from the existing building except its size and shape. The pretense of a gauzy skin would be completely jettisoned and the building would embrace its glass box identity.
In GM’s opinion this would have been a horrible outcome. It would have all the monotonous charm of Brutalism, which brought us gems like the FBI Building and the entirety of L’Enfant Plaza. And it would be a giant wall of light at night.
Thankfully the design the group presented last week gets us back much closer to the spirit and design of the current building:
The new design would keep the 29th St. facade. And the rest of the building, while being completely rebuilt, would replicate the same window and wall scheme that currently exists. No more wall of glass or wall of gauze covering a wall of glass. It would be a proper wall with tan bricks, punctured with a bar graph of windows.
The east facade is particularly respectful of the current Streamlined Moderne style:
Yes, GM still wishes there were some way that the existing building could be saved. Even if (rather, especially if) it meant the building would be reused for non-residential purposes. Think of the Tate Modern.
And GM still believes the investment group behind the project unfairly banked on the assumption that the requirements put forward by the government during the auction to preserve the building could be subverted through this exact process.
But much of that is water under the bridge at this point. If we must demolish and rebuild this building, this is an acceptable path.
The West Heating Plant is dead. Long live the West Heating Plant.