Yesterday’s Times took a look at some of the massive projects in the works in New York City–developments like Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards and Manhattan’s West Side Railyards–and lamented that the designs are so utterly uninspiring. Richard Layman builds on the theme, noting that the waves of construction proceeding along Massachusetts Avenue and up toward Florida Avenue have produced a lot of strikingly similar, and dull, building plans. The projects are hulking, boxy, and covered in either glass or brick.
Now, the fact that New York is facing these same issues suggests that design review is important in producing good buildings. So, too, does the existence of attractive older structures along K Street, holdovers from the first half of last century squished between concrete squares and bland, glass ice-cubes. If the District wants memorable buildings, it needs to demand them.
I do think it’s important to note that the additional constraint of the height limit in Washington has a dulling effect on even the well-designed structures in the city. Intense market demand pushes buildings up and out, such that boxiness and flat rooflines are practically unavoidable. And a lot of contemporary architectural flourishes look weird when used on stunted buildings.
Opponents of height increases often cite the importance of view protection. That’s all well and good, but I think the value of varying heights and flexible shapes in producing lovely viewscapes is vastly underappreciated.