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Two New Designs Unveiled for the Georgetown West Heating Plant Project

by Nena Perry-Brown

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A rendering of the development team’s preferred design.

There are now two design options for the long-anticipated redevelopment of the West Heating Plant in Georgetown.

On Wednesday night, the Citizens Association of Georgetown (CAG) hosted Richard Levy of the Levy Group, architect David Adjaye and landscape designer Laurie Olin as they presented revised plans, as well as an additional option, for the redevelopment of the plant into residential units.

A development team consisting of the Levy Group, the Georgetown Companies and the Four Seasons intend to transform the heating plant at 1051-1055 29th Street NW (map) into a luxury 60-70 unit condominium complex. The West Heating Plant sat vacant for over a decade before it was auctioned to the team in 2013 for $19.5 million. The developers hope that by bringing high-end condos (that will sell for over $1,500 a square foot) to the two-acre site that they will be able to finance the creation and maintenance of a one-acre public park on the site as well.

The development team received a good deal of feedback when they presented the initial designs in 2013, and they have incorporated that feedback into their revised plan. However, they were also encouraged to capitalize on the fact that historic landmark designation for the building is no longer on the table, leading them to develop a second option as well.

Both options are outlined below.


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A view of the first option as seen from the originally-planned park.

A Modernized Interpretation of the Existing Building

The first option, a revision of the renderings presented two years ago, will preserve or replicate many of the existing building elements in a more modern fashion. One design point that would mimic the existing facade is the use of motorized terra cotta slatting to allow ventilation and light into the condominium units. The face of the building on 29th Street would largely be retained, as it is the only exterior wall that is structurally sound and has floors built into it.. Fenestrations on the front of the condos would be lowered to make the building more “human-scaled.”


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A view of the second option as seen from the originally-planned park.

An Homage to the City’s History

The new option — Adjaye’s ideal vision — would present the building as a junction point that references its proximity to the civic monumental core of the city (the Kennedy Center, the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool) and its place in the smaller-scale Georgetown neighborhood. The building would have a smaller footprint and would be set farther back from 29th Street, while the park would be larger than proposed in the initial plan. The bulk of the building would be shorter and constructed with marble and stone columns surrounding transparent interior walls.

Rather than the two-story penthouse level presented in the first plan, this option would have three stories in a pavilion style, with a bronze mesh attic enclosing the HVAC equipment. The team is also exploring the idea of having some sort of elemental ironwork screening incorporated in the facade in order to make the building appear more residential than office-like.


In both options, the park on the southern end of the site would be elevated, and the main entrance to the condo building moved to 29th Street. Remnants of the bluestone wall would be incorporated into the walls along the park’s edge as an homage to the original heating plant. In response to neighborhood opposition, the glass bridge that was intended to connect the condos to the Four Seasons Hotel has been eliminated from the design, so there will be nothing connecting the two buildings or connecting the condo building to the park.

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An aerial view of Olin’s landscape design

Laurie Olin presented a vision for the landscaping of the park which would include various types of local and American trees and foliage, as well as finding a way to connect the Rock Creek Park bicycling path to the northern edge of the site and connecting the park to the C&O Canal and Georgetown Waterfront with a stairwell on the southeastern edge of the park. Georgetown’s history as an active 19th-century port would be referenced with the strategic use of ornamental flowering tobacco plants, as well as cobblestones at the bottom of a basin along the 29th Street side of the park.


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While the original construction schedule had the completion date set for 2017-2018, Richard Levy now anticipates that the remediation and demolition stage and construction will take three years, once everything has been approved. And the approval process will be long and multi-faceted, as the team will present to the Old Georgetown Board, Commission of Fine Arts, and the ANC 2E in February to secure their recommendations and support. The process would then have to go through historic review again, be sent to the Mayor’s office in hopes of being designated a “project of special merit”, and then go before the Board of Zoning Adjustment for planned-unit development approval.

There will also be several more community meetings throughout the process, as plans for the interior, mix of units, and parking concerns need to be addressed. Levy encouraged all in attendance to reach out to their ANC members prior to next year’s meetings and select which plan they prefer.

the Georgetown West Heating Plant Project

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/two_design_options_for_georgetown_west_heating_plant_project/10520

4 Comments

  1. Matt said at 9:50 am on Thursday December 10, 2015:

    The preferred design looks like an ugly office building attempting a poor homage to the Kennedy Center.

  1. Nathaniel Martin said at 12:51 pm on Thursday December 10, 2015:

    The existing building is an elegant, if severe, work of Art Moderne, and I, for one, would like to see it landmarked. If that is not going to happen, then I’d at least like to see the existing architecture respected. The “first option” sort of does that. At any rate, it’s certainly better than the “second option,” which is just awful. David Adjaye’s body of work is extremely inconsistent. He has done some lively, beautiful work, such as the Francis Gregory DC Library, and some appallingly ugly work, such as the Sugar Hill housing project in the Bronx (an architectural tragedy that should have been called out by the professional press). His proposal for this site is in between those two in terms of quality, but it is certainly dull, dull, DULL. It’s oddly proportioned and leaden. We can do better.

  1. skidrowedc@gmail.com said at 3:04 pm on Thursday December 10, 2015:

    The developers paid way, way, way, way too much for the site/building, given its obvious incompatibility for adaptive reuse into condos for the 1%.  They did so based on the assumption that, as members of the super-rich, they are essentially above the law.  They can only avoid a spectacular bankruptcy by convincing multiple powers-that-be that a complete and stunning abrogation of long-established preservation/land-use law is acceptable, as well as completely ignoring specific requirements of their purchase contract. 

    Providing a project of “special merit” is the main crack in the otherwise solid wall of preservation law and process.  The park and “motorized terra cotta slats” apparently are supposed to provide such “special merit.”

    I’m not buying that—I basically agree with Nathanial Martin that it’s dull—but even if I did buy it, why should I agree to let the development team off the hook for making a really dumb deal?  That is not the purpose of historic review (or zoning or any other public land-use regulation), not in DC nor anywhere else. 

    The GSA’s RFP and subsequent disposition contract were crystal clear that standard historic preservation guidelines were mandatory. The developers knew that the building is designated as a “contributing structure” to the Georgetown Historic District, and that it’s also subject to review by the Commission of Fine Arts (via its subsidiary Old Georgetown Board).  These entities are LEGALLY REQUIRED to uphold relevant laws. 

    (For those unfamiliar, being a “contributing structure” to a historic district is a lower level of preservation designation than being a “landmark.”  But it still confers significant protections.  I personally do not think that the Heating Plant met the criteria for “landmark.”  But if one takes that criteria seriously, one must take the design guidelines seriously, too.  They’re part of the same body of law.)

    Beyond that, I really can’t imagine any amount of “special merit” that would change the fact that, if the developers are successful, it will be a huge slap in the face to the 99% who are compelled to fulfill the contractual promises we make.  A pleasant new park and an Italian Fascist-style building certainly don’t earn the required “special merit.”

  1. Dave said at 9:41 pm on Thursday December 10, 2015:

    I actually like the designs - much better than an abandoned wasteland that it is now that some want to keep.  As a very nearby resident of the area - I am looking forward to the park and additional ways to connect that to the waterfront and hopefully it can enliven the street.  Hopefully it will just get built and not bogged down by all of the red tape.  It is this red tape and the issues with the Park Service not maintaining their space that seems to be holding back the area.  Georgetown needs new development like this!

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