Where the D.C. chapter once had walled itself off in the clubby atmosphere of a Dupont Circle townhouse, it now operates out of a ground-floor storefront in the old Odd Fellows building on Seventh Street NW. Passersby can see inside from front to back in one quick glance. And they’re welcome to step inside and chat awhile.
“It’s a clear, simple and concise concept,” says Thomas Corrado, project architect with Hickok Cole, the Washington firm that created the design. “The idea was about how to make the space a connection between architecture and the person on the street.”
Hickok Cole won the commission a year ago in an anonymous competition, overcoming entries by 16 other local architects, and aiming at LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Hickok Cole’s plan called for taking 15,000 square feet inside the 1916 Beaux Arts building down to its bare bones, stripping away drywall from its columns to expose steel I-beams, for a more modern look.
“The glass is glass, and the wood is wood,” says Mary Fitch, executive director of the District chapter. “There’s no artifice.”
One reason for the move was that the older building could not be made sustainable. In the new space, the architects have used Forest Stewardship Council-approved wood that was not only cultivated but will be replenished, a plumbing system that helps prevent overuse of water, and a lighting system that maximizes control of energy use.
A gesture to outside world
Still, it’s the building’s gestures to the outside world that is most impressive about this design. When pedestrians gaze in from the sidewalk, they first see a wide-open art gallery, then a two-story, 20-foot-tall glass cube sunken below grade at midrange,and classrooms and offices toward the rear.
“We placed the gallery so we can show the work,” says Yolanda Cole, a partner in Hickok Cole. “It’s the ‘Wow!’ factor. It’s unexpected – you walk in the front door and wonder what’s going on.”
The center’s first exhibit – featuring winners in a recent design competition – should be on view by the end of November. It’ll make way in mid-December for a show by students in the organization’s Architecture in the Schools program. In January, things will kick up a bit with an exhibit on art nouveau architecture from Brussels, and, in collaboration with the National Building Museum, another on “Unbuilt Washington.” The latter dovetails nicely with the AIA-D.C.’s mobile app that offers a “Guide to the Architecture of Washington D.C.”
Others programs in late November will address the needs of young people, how to work with an architect and how to “green” a home. A new Web site will also launch by month’s end.