Around Georgetown, the antidevelopment citizen activists have a name for architect Arthur Cotton Moore, a designer of large office buildings and now a controversial residential and commercial complex planned for the Potomac River shoreline.
They call him Arthur Nylon Less.
In the parlors of Georgetown's elegant old federal- and Victorian-style homes, such a moniker is intended as a put-down of the sweeping glass, contemporary structures that Moore has produced over the last decade. But it also is an indication that the impact of Moore is not something to be dismissed lightly.
In fact, the 44-year-old Moore has already left his distincitive mark throughout the Washington landscape and has become one of the region's best known architects. In a city where rectangular limestone federal office buildings are as common a sight as lost tourists peering at street maps, Moore's designs have often provided a different look: curving lines, large expanses of glass and an occasional modernistic interpretation of medieval turrets.
His imprint can be seen in a starkly contemporary home on the Virginia side of Chain Bride or in the clustered, curving $450,000 homes being built on the Foxhall Road estate of the late Nelson A. Rockefeller. The glassroofed renovation of Washington's Old Post Office is a Moore product as is a plan for a revitalized downtown Rockville. Another Moore design calls for a 13-story-high waterfall built into the side of a planned office building at 13th and L. streets NW.
But it is in Georgetown where Moore has so far left his most lasting impression. The highly praised Canal Square office and commercial complex, the transformation of the old Washington Gas Light Co. buildings into a sleek office complex and the rehabilitation of an old machine foundry into a restaurant connected to a new office building are all of his design.
It is Moore's latest Georgetown effort, however, that has made him the center of controversy. There he has designed a large waterfront residential and commercial complex, costing at least $60 million that would replace an eyesore that exists along the Potomac -- a cement plant, parking lots and long-ignored debris.
The architect's plans call for construction of 350 to 400 condominiums that would range in cost from $130,000 to $500,000. There would be shops offices and walkways between the buildings leading to the Potomac River and an adjacent park heading toward Key Bridge.
Moore's plan is innovative, a fact most of his staunchest critics concede, and consists of two curving buildings partially surrounding an elliptical yacht basin facing the Potomac. But for many Georgetown residents its innovativeness is irrelevant; they want a park with no development on the site -- nothing more, nothing less.
The federal Fine Arts Commission, charged with the review of the design of the proposed buildings in Georgetown, said a few days ago it would approve the part of Moore's design encompassing the curving buildings and yacht basin, but not the taller, bulkier buildings abutting the Whitehurst Freeway to the rear that his plan calls for. However, the Fine Arts Commission's first choice, like that of many of the citizens, is for a park.
And thus the battle is joined: the Georgetown residents vs. the Georgetown architect.
While Moore has a reputation for seeking out neighbors of projects he is designing to learn how they feel about them, he has not done that so far with the Georgetown waterfront development.
The reason, Moore said, is that "everybody's position is so terribly entrenched. It would be like beating your head against the wall."
In shore, there is no love lost between Moore and the activists. The activists view Moore as a contributor toward a "Manhattanized" Georgetown. He sees them, meanwhile, as uncompromising zealots who have gambled big and lost big in their efforts to halt -- rather than work with -- developers.
The chief complaint against Moore -- a resident of Georgetown in an unGoergoetown-like contemporary -- is that he does not understand the preservation fervor that many of the community's residents possess.
"The general impression in Georgetown is that Mr. Moore is not sensitive to the historic district of Georgetown," says Katharine Sullivan, an opponent of Moore's waterfront proposal and an advisory neighborhood commissioner.
"Below M Street is no longer an historic district," she laments. "It certainly is regrettable. It's difficult to relate high-rise buildings to an historic district. Moore's designs are not appropriate to this part of town." h
Joseph Miller, a professor of architecture and urban design at Catholic University, voices a similar complaint, saying, "I frankly disagree with his concept for Georgetown.
"An overabundance of automobiles will ruin Georgetown," Miller says. "That's why I'm not interested in the large office buildings that have been built and proposed."
Another citizen critic, Grosvenor Chapman, a retired architect and former president of the Georgetown Citizens Association says he believes Moore feels that architects know what's best in design, not citizens. "This is a form of conceit, that you don't need the citizens," Chapman said.
"He's probably a capable architect," Chapman says. "But I don't think his metier is Georgetown. I don't think he's sympathetic to Georgetown at all.
"His architecture is dominated by his business sense, by a sense of cutting swaths, so it will be noticed," Chapman concluded. "I think restraint is still important what used to be known as good taste."
The tall, usually soft-spoken Moore is a product of the gentlemanly ways of his St. Alban's and Princeton education. But he becomes somewhat agitated when he starts talking about citizen involvement in the development process.
"I think citizens have a lot to say what goes on in an area, he said. "I'm very much in favor of citizens yelling and screaming about architecture." "
He notes withe pride that residents living near the Rockefeller estate were admantly opposed to developed Rozansky and Kay's plan for "ticky-tacky" $300,000 homes until he was hired and redesigned the plan. Citizens approved the project after he devised a way to leave a substantial amount of green space and clustered the homes in a series of circular layouts.
"I must say Moore's approach was imaginative," says Tommy H. Jackson, who led the citizen group that worked with Moore on the Rockefeller estate plan. "He turned it from an adversary relationship [with the developer] to one of cautiously working toward a solution."
Washington Post architecture critic Wolf Von Eckardt, who has often praised Moore's designs, says that one of the architect's strongest suits is his willingness to talk with neighbors near proposed construction to find out about their community and try to relate the new building to the existing environment.
As for Moore's designs, Von Eckardt's assessment is simple: "He is original, but in a quiet, conservative way. He stands out with quality, dignity. But every once in awhile he feels he must be with it, be sensational."
Moore's cooperation with the Foxhall Road citizens stands in marked contrast to his experience in Georgetown.
"Georgetown," says Moore, "is the one case where all the citizens opted for a strategy that has been extraordinarily self-defeating. Instead of working with developers, they elected to get down in the bunkers and file lawsuits.
"All park, no development. They've gotten themselves into a position where they constantly lose because of their absolutist position. It's all or nothing and, as a result, they're getting nothing."
One of the lawsuits Moore referred to was a long-running court battle brought by Georgetown residents contesting city zoning regulations that allow development along the waterfront. The case lingered for four years in court and the citizens spent $50,000 on it. But they lost in October 1978.
Moore believes that Georgetown, despite some of the residents' views, "is a series of different zones. Above M Street it is an historic, residential zone. Below M Street (approaching the river) was an industrial slum, always larger in scale and heavily industrial.
"There is little to save down there," he says. "We have lovingly saved everything we can get our hands on."
As one example, Moore points to his Canal Square project, where he preserved the facade of one old building in the open courtyard of the complex and melded it with new construction. The effect of the old stone wall meshing with red brick contemporary look is striking, almost everyone agrees, and Moore has won six awards from the design, including one from the Georgetown citizens group.
"I do believe in softer forms than the basic box," Moore says. "We think people like them better and they're appealing.
"One of the things I don't like is banal buildings," Moore says. "There are too many nonentities built in Washington," such as the office buildings along K and L streets NW. "A grid of window patterns to me is sad."
Moore's brand of architecture does not come cheaply. While he declined to disclose what his firm of 26 architects earned last year, he said that their fee is typically 3 to 4 percent of the value of the construction.
That is a figure that often can yield large sums. The Georgetown waterfront proposal is expected to cost at least $60 million meaning Moore's fee might range from $1.8 million to $2.4 million, although he said it has not been set yet.
Alan Kay, owner of the firm developing the Rockefeller estate, described Moore's fee on the project as "astronomical."
"Arthur is not known as one of the cheapest architects in town," Kay said. "Having said that, we'd use him again even if the project were not controversial."
It is such a reputation that led Georgetown developer Herbert S. Miller to Moore after the Fine Arts Commission summarily rejected another architect's design for the Georgetown waterfront development.
"He's brilliant," Miller said. "I'm very excited about the work Arhtur is doing. That man is really a genius."