The DC Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) will discuss a new set of designs for the Benning Road streetcar maintenance facility this Thursday. The US Commission on Fine Arts (CFA) already got a look last week.

Aerial view. Top: “Vertical/Civic” option. Bottom: “Horizontal/Podium” option.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) showed earlier concept designs to HPRB and CFA in November. CFA recommended “a more urban and civic condition of a public building,” while HPRB wanted it to be as small and unobtrosive as possible.

Therefore, DDOT has developed 2 concepts. One has more vertical architectural elements designed to give the building a “civic” look, while the other has a more horizontal feel dubbed “podium.” Both are the same height, but the “horizontal/

podium” design sets the 3rd floor back from the front façade, while “vertical/

civic” does not.

View from Benning Road. Top: “Vertical/Civic” option. Bottom: “Horizontal/Podium” option.

These designs look much better than the previous ones. Historic Preservation Office staff, in their report, say that the architects have better related the building to Spingarn High School by using a brick veneer, preserving certain sight lines to Spingarn, and creating a border of green space around the perimeter. It’s too bad DDOT wasn’t able to locate the building on the nearby RFK parking lots. Streetcar planners should have started pursuing this option with the federal government sooner, but there’s no guarantee they ever could have gotten permission; the National Park Service is fairly jealous about keeping “recreational” land free of buildings even if that “recreation” right now is just empty parking space for a stadium. At the MoveDC kickoff forum, Meg Maguire of the Committee of 100 made the sensible suggestion that DDOT plan locations for other car barns early, so that other communities have more chances to participate in designing them, and so that there’s time to work more thoroughly to pursue the most appropriate sites.

26th Street elevation. Top: “Vertical/Civic” option. Bottom: “Horizontal/Podium” option.

HPRB members will be tempted to block the building because they wish it could be elsewhere, but that’s not their standard. This building is compatible with the adjacent historic ones and should go forward, though if HPRB members have suggestions to improve the design, it’s certainly worth getting the best example of a civic building that’s practical to build here. DDOT is holding a public meeting Tuesday to update the community on the streetcar’s progress. It’s 6:30-8 pm at Miner Elementary, 601 15th Street, NE.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.