Friday, February 20, 2009

Context and Massing in Historic Districts

These are two of the most frequent descriptors that weave through conversations when historical preservation architects discuss proposals for modern buildings in the midst of a group of historic properties. How large is the proposed structure? What is its configuration? Does it comfortably blend into the architectural environment? Does its presence somehow diminish the neighborhood? Mindful of these questions, the HPO and HPRB continually struggle to balance their approach to a first proposal that allows one to distinguish what is original from what is new, yet simultaneously encourage a tasteful continuity with the past. The final building should not appear contrived but rather, an interpretation of the spirit of the neighborhood. Builders and developers on the other hand strive to maximize the use of their allotted “footprint” of land. With the restrictions of 60/40 ratios of land use restrictive covenants, this often means “going vertical.” Getting the proportions right at the beginning is the key, for once a structure has been approved it very unlikely to be disapproved after the fact simply because the plans and products look somewhat different and (even objectionable) when the project is finally constructed in full scale. Not all of the city is designated as “historic” even though properties in non historic areas date back to the 19th Century and are identical in configuration to their protected peers elsewhere. This problem is under vigorous discussion.

The first block of P Street NE is an excellent example of one new building that “got it right” and a new addition “got it wrong.” It all comes down to values. Sometimes it takes the collective consciousness of a neighborhood to guide the decision making of all stakeholders. There are standards and guidelines and then there is common sense.

New construction on a double lot that blends elegantly with its environment.

New “pop up” construction that is visually jarring and entirely out of sync in massing and context.

1 comment:

IMGoph said...

amazing how stark the difference between good and bad is when they're that close to each other, eh?