When old chewing gum is stuck to a wall, it’s a nuisance. But when it sticks in the mind of architect Morris Adjmi, it’s an inspiration.
At the abandoned Atlantic Plumbing building next to the 9:30 Club, where thousands of people have waited in line for shows or bummed cigarettes between sets, there is a brick wall covered in petrified gum, every color of the rainbow. Gross, right?
“I think it’s really beautiful,” said Adjmi, who was enlisted by development company JBG to design two residential and commercial buildings, one next to 9:30 and the other in a plot across the street.
Also beautiful to Adjmi: the graffiti-tagged alley walls, the overgrown trumpet vines that cover another crumbling building, the rusty metal discarded throughout the lot, and even the tattooed bouncer with the gauged ears who stands watch at the 9:30 Club.
All of these elements of inspiration have found their way into Adjmi’s cantilevered, steel-lattice design for the larger of the two buildings, which will break ground in March and open in late 2014. The 10-story building next to 9:30 will house 310 residential units with a roof deck, garden plots and a pool for residents.
A bar and restaurant are part of the designs, but Adjmi and JBG are also setting aside space for artist studios, shops and a small movie theater. Though the number of studios is to be determined, 3,000 square feet will be devoted to them.
“I think that buildings can be quiet or can make more of a statement,” Adjmi said. “There are different places for different approaches, and this is somewhere in between. I wanted this to feel like it was part of the neighborhood, but also be an iconic building that can create a new course for it.”
Part of that course will involve attracting people to V Street NW between Eighth and Ninth during the day, as well as at night. JBG principal Kai Reynolds says the company wanted to take advantage of the 9:30 Club audiences, who have to trek blocks away for pre- and post-show food and drink.
The 9:30 Club’s publicist, Audrey Fix Schaefer, said it’s too early to share more, but “we had an initial look and didn’t have any major concerns.”
Living next to the club will have benefits for the building’s residents, too: They’ll regularly get to see famous bands unload their gear the afternoon before their shows. As Adjmi led a tour of the site, soul musician Allen Stone’s van pulled up.
The theater will focus on independent films. “It’s not likely that ‘Batman’ will shown there,” said Reynolds. “It will tie into the overall sense of the project, which is arts-focused and community-focused. . . . We want to activate the street at different times than the 9:30 Club.”
As for the galleries, Adjmi designed street-facing spaces with pull-up garage doors, which would enable artists to showcase and sell their work. While they’re still in the early stages of looking for artists to inhabit the rent-subsidized spaces, Reynolds says they’re seeking an eclectic mix — from T-shirt designers to sculptors.
Adjmi is best known as a New York architect, with some of his highest-profile projects in the Meatpacking District, Williamsburg and adjacent to High Line Park. But he has visited the District more than 10 times so far and has build up some neighborhood cred. He has sampled the chili at Ben’s but can more often be found at the Blind Dog Cafe, near the site of the new building. He spent an hour, mesmerized, at Doug Aitken’s “Song 1” at the Hirshhorn Museum last spring. And hanging out in the neighborhood has shown him even more that it can be a 24/7 destination: Coming from New York, the city that never sleeps, to Washington, the city that rises at dawn, he wasn’t accustomed to our earlier weeknights.
“I think I ended up at the [American] Ice Company as they were closing,” he said. “I was like, what is this?”
“That’s Washington,” Reynolds said.
Adjmi says D.C. architecture could use “a little edge,” something he’s hoping his building will help maintain on a block that already has plenty. “But not too much,” he said. “You can go too far, and you miss the whole point. The city has to feel like itself, and it needs to reflect that in its architecture.”
That’s why, when the building breaks ground this spring, the gum wall that inspired it all isn’t going to become a heap of rubbish. Those gum-covered bricks — as well as the paint-coated ones that bear street art or the Atlantic Plumbing signage — will be reused in Adjmi’s new building. And if it inspires more street art on the new building, that’s okay, too.
“The idea is to capture some of that spontaneity of the neighborhood,” said Adjmi, “so some additional tagging is fine with me.”
“Hopefully, people will say, ‘Oh, I like the way this building fits into the neighborhood. I also like the way it stands out,’ ” Adjmi said.
D.C. architecture could use “a little edge,” Adjmi says. “But not too much. You can go too far, and you miss the whole point. The city has to feel like itself, and it needs to reflect that in its architecture.