To the Editor:
In his recent writings on the "Bilbao Effect" and Frank Gehry's design for an addition to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Benjamin Forgey ("Beyond Bilbao: Revisiting a Special Effect," Oct. 20) points out that Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao was created in the context of strong, imaginative urban planning. Its location, vantage points and axial ties to the city were all critically considered factors in making the design a more meaningful piece of the urban fabric.
Now Washington is in a position to provide Gehry with a site as important as the Guggenheim's and, yet, what a loss it is that the same kind of planning has not been utilized. The Corcoran design will be a great addition to Washington's architectural legacy, as Forgey so accurately points out. It is, however, disappointing to see a great building project not be the dramatic and meaningful urban design event it could and deserves to be. Gehry's building needs to be a focal structure anchoring the eastern end of Rollins Park directly on axis with the Kennedy Center to the west, where a new plaza and additional cultural activities are planned. If positioned prominently on the corner of 18th Street NW and New York Avenue, instead of squeezed in between two existing buildings merely hyphening the historic Corcoran Gallery to a nondescript 1970s office building, this impressive structure would be a dramatic link between the visual and the performing arts. What an exciting piece of Washington this would be for residents and tourists alike, especially with the new structures for George Washington University and the American Red Cross along the northern edge of the E Street Mall.
Currently, the site is privately owned, and attaining its use for the Corcoran addition will require a reasonable compromise between the involved private and public interests. However, this compromise must be struck in order to preserve this rare opportunity to combine great architecture with great urban design.
The question, then, becomes: Can Washington's reinvigorated Office of Planning and the National Capital Planning Commission seize this opportunity?
I certainly hope so.
If a site change compromise can't be reached, then perhaps the associated unions should consider hiring Frank Gehry to redesign the exterior of their building as a demonstration of the craftsmanship union labor brings to challenging construction projects such as Gehry's. It was Gehry, after all, who provided a design to highlight the skill of sheet metal workers at the National Building Museum in 1988.
PHILIP A. ESOCOFF
Esocoff & Associates, architects
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