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Rogers & Us

The boring part, of course, is the office building. It's an overly fat glass box sawed off at 10 floors in the Washington way. Potentially, two things can save it.

One is the quality of the glass curtain wall. Like the firms of Norman Foster, Nicholas Grimshaw and other British high-techers, the Rogers Partnership is famously obsessive about glass and metal and how those materials come together. "We're tenacious, and we won't let go on the quality of the detail," says Ivan Harbour, design director of the Washington job. So this might turn out to be one heck of a glass box.

Its shape might be the building's second saving grace. Rogers insisted that it be trapezoidal rather than rectangular, with a sharply angled side leading dramatically to the atrium entrance, set back about 50 feet from New Jersey Avenue. This simple but important gesture visually ties the private interior space to the public neighborhood. And make no mistake: A visual connection alone is far better than none at all.

That is particularly true with an atrium such as the one the Rogers teams has designed. With a few notable exceptions, Washington's office-building atria are nondescript empty boxes intended simply to bring in natural light. The Rogers atrium, by contrast, is the brilliant linchpin of a complex of buildings.

At the center of the basically triangular space is a stunning steel structure supporting platforms and bridges connecting the three buildings and resolving the differences in floor-to-floor heights. (In the Acacia, the measurement is a magnanimous 15 feet; in the new addition, an "efficient" 10.)

Designers often refer to the structure as the "tree" because its steel supports are akin to trunks and its bridges to limbs. Harbour prefers the analogy of an upright skier whose arms are stretched outward, holding steadying ski poles.

Whatever one calls it, this design has wonderful potential, with people walking to and from amid the visible counterbalances of structural forces. The vast triangular roof, made of glass supported by a boomerang-shaped pattern of steel trusses and cantilevers, will be a fitting treetop or, if you like, an appropriate surround for the arms of a giant skier.

If all goes well, then, in a couple of years, we'll have a Rogers marvel here in the District. And that's nothing to dismiss.

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