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A New Morning in Washington

The Architect’s Newspaper, June 20, 2012

It’s hard to pinpoint just when D.C. began to change, when a famously classical city took a second look at contemporary architecture and urban design, liked what it saw, and—even more surprising, given its ingrained traditionalism, many-layered regulatory processes, and vocal NIMBY groups—started building more of it.

“Here’s the challenge in Washington: it’s still a city in which the people are fundamentally not Los Angeles-type people. This is a place that’s conservative,” said Roger Lewis, an architect and Washington Post columnist who has lived in D.C. since the late 1960s. “We have this legacy of classically inspired buildings. That, coupled with the L’Enfant Plan and the 130-foot height limit, does tend to produce a mindset…that resists innovation.”

But Lewis and others see that resistance crumbling and a new eagerness for architectural innovation emerging. Even the Height Act of 1910, once taken as doctrine, is under review. D.C.’s Mayor Vincent Gray and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that oversees the district, recently said they would consider relaxing the limits, especially outside of the monumental core. As the city’s population grows and buildable parcels of land dwindle, economic development types can only look in one direction: up.

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