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Urban apartments in D.C. add gardens for lush living

The Apartments at CityCenter in downtown D.C. worked with landscape architects to create green spaces for residents like Joe Ament. (Jason Hornick/for Express)
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When Joe Ament wandered up to the grassy public patio on the fifth floor of his building, the Apartments at CityCenter DC, on a recent Friday night, he was expecting to have a quiet evening.

Instead, “someone calls out my name,” recalls Ament. “And sure enough, some of the other residents were having cocktails.” Ament ended up spending the evening socializing with his neighbors.

That’s the idea. The Apartments at CityCenter (825 and 875 10th St. NW; 888-481-7392), the rental portion of the massive multi-use development, has gotten a lot of attention for trying to lure tenants to the urban center of the District. Studios in the new building start at $2,130 a month and one-bedrooms start at $2,728.

Though the neighborhood, just south of the Washington Convention Center, wasn’t known for its greenery, developers wanted the inside of the building to feel less densely urban and more landscaped and light-filled.

“Outdoor spaces were always a big focus of ours,” says Jason Jacobson, managing director at Hines, the developer behind the Apartments at CityCenter. “We wanted to bring the outside in.”

The Apartments at CityCenter hired local landscape architecture firm Lee and Associates so early on in the process that the team was working with the architects before the structure was built.

“We did extensive sun/shade studies to figure out how much sun landed on the courtyards,” says Jeff Lee, president of Lee and Associates.

Yes, that’s “courtyards,” plural. Inside CityCenter’s monolithic exterior, architects carved out a series of open spaces. “On the interior, it’s sculpted terraces, which let light down to every level,” says Ben Tauber of Lee and Associates.

The end result is landscaped public spaces throughout the building. A top-floor roofdeck with grills and tables is covered in local succulents. A dog run on the top floor sits adjacent to a green roof, which absorbs rainwater. On the fifth floor, an indoor game room opens onto an outdoor pool, and there are plans to decorate the deck around the pool with seasonal plants. Across a chasm, also on the fifth floor, a grassy terrace with tables looks out onto the pool. And below it all, the second floor’s mossy garden is clearly visible from the gym.

Lee calls the terraced effect “The Hanging Gardens of Babylon.”

Each space gets differing amounts of light, so each has different fauna. That’s why the sun-soaked roof deck gets succulents while one corner of the second-floor courtyard is so shady it could only sustain moss. The plants are all sourced locally, and the green roof helps.

“There’s a short-term benefit in terms of reduced water use and reduced energy use,” Jacobson says of the green roof. Plus, “we think in the long term it helps us lease our buildings and keep them leased longer,” he says.  “If they can feel a little bit better about living in this building, it not only gets them here, but keeps them here longer.”

Across town, at Trilogy NoMa, shared spaces are also a selling point, says sales and marketing manager Bethany Hight.

With three mid-rise buildings sitting on one and a half city blocks, “it’s nice and spread out,” Hight says. That allowed Trilogy NoMa (151 Q St. NE) to make space for two ground-floor interior courtyards, which feature things like fountains, a rock garden, a grill and plenty of seating.

In addition, there are two outdoor pools with open nearby lounge areas. There’s also a fenced in “Bark Park,” where dog owners can let their dogs off the leash. “The bark park’s a total hit for the pet owners,” Hight says. “People like to interact and meet each other.”

“A lot of the renters like the fact that we have more lounge spaces outside than a traditional high-rise,” Hight says.

Studios at Trilogy NoMa start in the mid $1,500s, and one-bedrooms start at $1,825. They also have two-bedrooms beginning at $2,600.

Ament, who works for A Briggs, a passport and visa expediting service, says the extra public spaces were one reason he chose to rent at CityCenter.

“For me, the public spaces are very important because I live in a studio,” says Ament, who downsized his square footage when he moved to D.C. from Alexandria. “The space was smaller, but at the end of the day, because of the communal areas, it was a much better living experience.”

He says the shared green spaces have helped him meet others in the building, and that monthly get-togethers organized by the building managers, frequently outdoor cocktail parties, help too.

“You’re downtown. You’re surrounded by concrete,” Ament says. “But you’re in your own little sanctuary.”

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