Saturday, February 18, 2012
Blagden Alley Community Responds to New Development Proposals
Representatives of Suzane Reatig Architecture, presented a new version of their plans for the lot at 926 N Street at the Blagden Alley-Naylor Court Association Meeting this week. At the last ANC 2F meeting this group received painful fusillades of public criticism from all sides, not only for the design itself but also for not engaging in a constructive participatory process with the community. They were also accused by several audience members of trying to “slide something objectionable under the community radar without discussion – or knowledge.” To the firm's credit they suggested at the ANC 2F meeting that they had no interest in creating a building that nobody liked. So the dialog begins.
Other D.C. companies “get it” and work hard to engage the hearts and minds of any community within which they work. CASRiegler is one such company. Their Company mission as articulated on their web site is:
“to create unique real estate products in urban-infill locations that meet the needs of today’s city dwellers, workers and retail customers. Today’s urban environment calls for sustainable practices and responsible living. CAS Riegler Companies is determined to provide homes and work spaces that match today’s urban-centric values while never sacrificing exceptional style or character.”
This is a “young company” with young/youthful people, yet they have already managed to establish for themselves within Washington, a reputation for working hard with the community on each project to get a sense of the surrounding environment and people to create something new that has a modern edge that fits within the spectrum of tasteful development. CAS Riegler presented a very preliminary proposal rendering for a project of their own on the same block as Reatig’s project at the corner of 9th and N at the same BANCA meeting. The community applauded them this week for both their early engagement and their design. They have also recently been recognized for their work in DC "Urban Pace Recognizes CAS Riegler Companies for Their Contribution to the Arts"
What is tasteful and edgy new construction that has managed to become happily married with the old? It’s rather hard to define – like pornography – but to paraphrase an old quote one usually knows it when one sees it. For example most would say that the carbuncular addition to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto lacks taste. It may be “edgy” and “raw” and “different” but it’s jarring. It rocks you and not in a good way. Some say it will grow on you. Most say not. But like a scar I guess people come to accept it over time, as a sort of tolerance by resignation because it’s not going anywhere and the battle has been lost.
For an in-depth exploration of this addition you can review the details of what is now referred to as the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal.
What are alternative suggestions for development at the 926 N site? Brendan Behan the great Irish poet once said, “Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves.” However, many in the Blagden Alley Naylor Court community are well qualified to do much more than simply criticize. Below is an example of an alternative concept created yesterday by OdCStudio, a local design practice.
The blog wires are buzzing about this project and indeed about the city’s newfound interest in alleys and infill construction. Suddenly 9th Street and alleys have become hot topics. Shilpi Paul who writes prolifically for Urban Turf has captured this in several of her recent articles including “9th Street:DC’s Next “It” Boulevard."
The dialog will continue and eventually – as in the case of the Whitman Building (shown above) – something will be created that makes sense and also creates a feeling of warmth and perhaps wonderment.
The 926 N site is especially important strategically because it is one of the four portals to the interior of the Blagden Alley block. How it succeeds in its ability to beckon and draw people into the alley (or repel them) is a large part of what this discussion is all about.
Is it possible for Washington D.C. architects and developers to intelligently capitalize on the many current infill opportunities in the area of the 9th Street Corridor by crafting something that has a respectful and maybe even impish nod to the past and a tip of the hat to the future?
Better still, turn up your inner and outer voices and become part of this stirring conversation. Once a building has been constructed, barring an act of nature, it’s there for a very, very long time. Future generations will wonder why this generation kept so quiet. It’s more than a war of taste. There are many well-established guiding principles and emotions in play here.