Ban the (Glass) Box

Glass-Box Architecture Has Held Sway in D.C. Long Enough

Washington City Paper, Oct. 13, 2016

Let’s say a developer wants to build an office building in D.C. He hopes to attract prestigious, deep-pocketed tenants: a law firm, a lobbying shop, maybe a tech company. He calls an architect in New York, someone who’s won glitzy awards and been profiled in the Times.

The architect comes down on the Acela for a meeting. The developer listens politely as he runs through a few ideas. Then he stops him and explains: D.C. is not New York. Progressive architecture sticks out like a sore thumb—or a red flag for the zoning and preservation boards—here. Also, because of the height limit, developers build out to the edges of the lot to make the numbers work better. Any design with a distinctive shape comes at the cost of square footage.

He points at a glistening wall across the street: “Can you design me something like that?”

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Photograph by Darrow Montgomery