Architect presents plan for Russell School redevelopment in Southwest


Randall School redevelopment model (Colin Goldie Productions/Courtesy of Bing Thom Architects)

Redevelopment of the long-shuttered Randall School in Southwest Washington is moving forward.

Last week, Vancouver-based architect Bing Thom, who designed the nearby Arena Stage on the waterfront, showed a model of the Randall project to residents and neighbors who live near the site at I and Half streets SW.

He also released a more detailed plan for the complex’s reuse, which includes museum space, residential units and two culinary wings that might be devoted to a restaurant and cooking school. A large auditorium wing could become a dining room. The most innovative idea in the mix would be “culinary incubators,” small pop-up style restaurants run for discrete periods of time by top young chefs.

The current scheme does not include a hotel, which had been discussed as a possible anchor for the development in earlier iterations.

Like another plan devised back when the Corcoran Gallery of Art owned the building and hoped to develop an extension of its campus, Thom’s plan calls for preservation of the historic main buildings, the first of which opened in 1906, but would demolish wings added later and not deemed historic. New construction would create a block-size complex with interior courtyard and townhouse residential units facing both the street and courtyard. One goal is to enliven the H and I streets, especially the former, which was partially closed as the neighborhood evolved over the years.

“We’re really trying to start respecting these corridors as streets,” said Michael Heeney, a principal and executive director of Bing Thom Architects.

New museum space would be included in the middle of the three historic buildings and in a new volume added behind it in the courtyard. The development is being led by a partnership between the D.C.-based Telesis, which specializes in unconventional urban redevelopment projects, and the Rubell family, who also own the nearby Skyline Hotel. The museum space would house art from the Rubell family collection, giving the Miami-based entrepreneurs a major foothold in the cultural life of the nation’s capital.

Details about how the final building would look are still sketchy at this point. Heeney said there isn’t a final price tag yet for the project, but it would include a half million square feet of finished space. He says he hopes to submit a plan to the District in the next few months.

Philip Kennicott is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Art and Architecture Critic of The Washington Post. He has been on staff at the Post since 1999, first as Classical Music Critic, then as Culture Critic.
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