Volume 1, No. 3 - March 27, 2007
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The Blast - News and Notes from AIA Northern Virginia

Calem-Rubin House
Calem-Rubin House, David Jameson Architect, Inc. (more info)
In This Issue

Mies van der Rohe's MLK Library


Featured Project: Calem-Rubin House

Featured Sponsor: Advance Engineers
 / O'Donnell & Naccarato

Visit the AIA Northern Virginia Website

The Struggle Over the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library
by Matt Shuba

If Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was alive today, he might be celebrating his 121st birthday (well, yesterday) by being dragged into the discussion over the future of his Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, DC. Neglect, the need for expansion, and perhaps changes in architectural tastes have conspired to ignite a debate over where the central branch of the DC Public Library System should be located. The DC Government supports a position of constructing a new central library on the nearby site formerly occupied by the Convention Center. Costs of the new construction would be offset by leasing out the Mies van der Rohe building to developers with the restriction that they use it "in a manner that preserves the historic character of the building."

Others, including The Recent Past Preservation Network, various citizens' groups, and the DC Library Renaissance Project, have taken positions in favor of preserving it as a library. The National Trust in a November 2006 letter to the City Council identified it as a building of "indisputable ... historic significance" and urged the city to identify it as a national landmark and keep it under municipal control.

photo by John A. Burns, FAIA

Photo courtesy of the DCPL Collection, DC Community Archives, Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library
The library was completed in 1972 and represents Mies van der Rohe's only built work in Washington and his only library worldwide. His daughter Georgia van der Rohe describes it as "the most public use of all his creations." But the building has been plagued by a host of problems, from broken elevators and water fountains to deteriorating carpet and ceiling tiles. Librarians complain of damage to books from sunlight through the building's facade of darkened glass. The homeless are often found sleeping in the library's bathrooms and reading areas.

It's not clear, however, that relocating the library to a new building will solve any of these problems in the long-term. There is an acknowledged culture of poor maintenance, and the city's library building maintenance budget is one-third of the national average, according to Alexander Padro of The Recent Past Preservation Network.
Mies van der Rohe designed the library to be adaptable in the future, constructing it to support an eventual fifth-floor addition. The proposed new library would be 350,000 square feet, 50,000 square feet less than the current building, even without the possible fifth floor. Certainly the major renovations needed present a challenge and inevitably substantial expense, but DC's Chief Financial Officer, Natwar Gandhi, estimates the cost to be no more than the cost of new construction. Certainly retrofitting an older building is not new to Washington; the Capitol, the White House and the Library of Congress have all had to be modernized with climate control, wiring and new elevators.

The building itself is not as out of character with DC as some claim; it has a low-slung, monochrome front (in this case black rather than marble white), spanning most of a city block as so many other important buildings. It employs understated lettering to identify itself and has a conservative dignity exceeding many of the city's better-known buildings. It's a building worthy of preservation, and it is not clear that a lease stipulation to private developers that they use it "in a manner that preserves the historic character of the building" will be adequate protection to accomplish this in a trustworthy manner. At a very minimum, every effort should made to keep the building under the control of the city, which in turn has a responsibility to treat it more gracefully than it has in the past.

It is the mode right now to bring in high-name recognition architects like Michael Graves and Rem Koolhaas to build grand central libraries for cities to rejuvenate neighborhoods, but it shouldn't be overlooked that this is exactly what Washington did only 35 years ago. Is it already necessary to go this route again?

The opinions reflected in this article are those of the author and do not reflect policy of the Chapter, its leadership, nor its members.

photo by John A. Burns, FAIA


April 10 - AIA Northern Virginia Blueprint for America Event
One of AIA Northern Virginia's two AIA150 Blueprint for America events, Women creating Community is a panel discussion inviting all members to attend and consider the impact architects can have on their communities. (More info)

March 30 - Canstruction® Build Out
5:00p-midnight. Watch this year's teams build their structures scattered throughout Ballston Common Mall, 4238 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington. Free.

March 31 - Low Impact Development: Tour of Wetland Studies + Solutions, Inc.
10:00, at WSSIs Headquarters, 5300 Wellington Branch Drive, Suite 100, Gainesville. The WSSI Headquarters, built in 2005, was designed as a LEED-Gold certified office building on a 5.07-acre, fully integrated low impact development site. LID techniques employed include a 3,626 square foot green roof, an underground cistern, a rain garden, and extensive native landscaping and drip irrigation. WSSI will present design and construction methods, as well as a cost comparison, of each of these practices. 2 AIA/CES HSW LUs. Free. Registration is required. Contact AIA NOVA at reservations@aianova.org or (703) 549-9747.

April 7 - ARE Prep Series: Construction Documents II
10:00a-2:00p at DMJM Design, 3101 Wilson Blvd., Suite 900, Arlington. The Young Architects Forum of the Northern Virginia Chapter AIA presents Part II of the Construction Documents division of the 2007 ARE Prep Seminars. In addition, the YAF is organizing study groups that will meet weekly to share resources and discuss the seminar material. Please visit the ARE Page of the AIA Northern Virginia website for more information.

April 9-14 - National and Virginia Architecture Week in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the AIA.

April 9 - Architecture in the Cinema
6:30p-9:00p at AIA National Headquarters, 1735 New York Avenue, NW, Washington DC. In The Lake House, starring Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves, a unique architect-designed glass cottage on an Illinois lake brings together a couple who are otherwise separated by time. Registration required; click here to sign up.

April 10 - Blueprint for America: Women Creating Community
6:00p-10:00p at the National Museum of Women In The Arts, 1250 New York Avenue NW, DC. Using information provided by citizens focusing on the AIA's 10 Principles of Livable Communities, a panel of architects will create an open dialog exploring the impact of women and minority architects in the community. The panel will address the impact that design has on the social, economic, and environmental sustainability of neighborhoods. 1.5 AIA/CES LUs. $40 for AIA and NMWIA members; $45 for non-members. Registration required, contact reservations@aianova.org or (703) 549-9747.

Opening April 11 - America's Favorite Architecture Exhibit
At AIA National Headquarters, 1735 New York Avenue, NW, Washington DC. On behalf of the AIA, Harris Interactive conducted research to identify America's favorite works of architecture. They surveyed 1,804 randomly selected Americans who ranked America's Favorite Architecture from a list pre-selected by an AIA panel of 248 structures in numerous categories, including famous homes, public buildings, sports arenas, transportation hubs, and office buildings.

April 12 - Glenn Brown Lecture & Alexandria Architecture Week Proclamation
7:00p at the Lyceum, 201 S Washington Street, Old Town Alexandria. To accompany an exhibit on Glenn Brown, there will be a lecture on his contributions to historic architecture and the design of the monumental core of Washington, DC presented by William B. Bushong, Staff Historian at the White House Historical Association. Special guest Alexandria Mayor, William D. Euille, will present a proclamation from the City of Alexandria proclaiming April 9-14 as Architecture Week. 1 AIA/CES LU. Registration is required. Contact the Chapter House at reservations@aianova.org.

April 13 - Architecture in the Schools Exhibit Opening Reception
6:30p-8:00p at the Athenaeum, 201 Prince Street, Old Town Alexandria. Volunteer architects work closely with teachers and students, elementary through high school, to integrate architecture into the curriculum and produce captivating projects. Come see an exhibition of their work.

April 14 - AIA Family Day
9:30a-3:00p At the AIA National Headquarters, 1735 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC. A day filled with architecture-related activities for the entire family, including a tour of local buildings geared for children. Registration is required. For additional information and to register, click here.

April 15 - Walking Tour of Alexandria
1:00p-3:00p, beginning at the Lyceum, 201 S Washington Street, Old Town Alexandria. Tours lead by local architects. Held in correlation with the Glenn Brown Exhibit on display through April at the Lyceum. 2 AIA/CES HSW LUs. Free. Contact the Chapter House at reservations@aianova.org.

April 17 - Young Architects' Forum Meeting
6:30p, at the Chapter House, 205 S Patrick Street, Old Town Alexandria.

April 18 - AIA Northern Virginia Lunch Seminar
Noon-1:00p, at KTA Group, Inc., 13755 Sunrise Valley Drive, Suite 500, Herndon. Presentation will address building, mechanical, plumbing, and electrical design issues. Common building code mistakes and common rejection comments and interpretations from local governmental jurisdictions will be discussed. Registration required; contact the Chapter House at reservations@aianova.org to make a reservation.

April 27-29 - ARE Prep Series: Structures with David Thaddeus, AIA
Weekend-long intensive course on the Structures Division of the Architectural Registration Exam offered by David Thaddeus, AIA. Additional details are available on the registration form, downloadable here.

Featured Project

Calem-Rubin House
Bethesda, MD
David Jameson Architect, Inc.

The Calem-Rubin house is an attempt to mediate the scale and material typology of a traditional post-war neighborhood while respecting the client's desire for a modern house. Originally constructed in 1939, the brick colonial style house was rebuilt as a composition of both modern form and timeless materials.

The distillation of shapes and textures - the stuccoed privacy walls, the mahogany brise-soleil, and the stone clad core volume - slide by each other to create an abstract composition and a reflection of the internal divisions of public and private spaces. The massive entry door interrupts the facade and opens to the gallery and circulation spine. To the North are the Kitchen, Dining Room, and Music Room.

To the South are the Library, double height Living Room, and Outdoor Room. Taut minimal stairs lead up to a bridge on the Second Floor which overlooks the Living Room and culminates at the floating Third Floor, a device used to bring light deep within the core volume.

You can view additional images from the project here.

Featured Sponsor

Advance Engineers / O'Donnell & Naccarato
9900 Main Street, Suite 502, Fairfax, VA 22031
Silver Sponsor

Advance Engineers / O’Donnell & Naccarato is a 125-member Consulting Structural Engineering firm providing award-winning structural engineering, parking consultation and façade restoration consulting services. For more than 50 years, the firm has been recognized among architects, owners and developers as an engineering organization committed to professionalism and excellence. In its structural engineering role, the firm places heavy emphasis upon analysis of design and optimum selection of materials to ensure budgetary compliance and quality control.

Clients have found in the firm a partner who can accurately evaluate a situation and deliver innovative and cost-effective solutions. Advance Engineers / O’Donnell & Naccarato has offices in Fairfax, VA; Philadelphia, PA; Princeton, NJ; Lehigh Valley, PA; and affiliates in West Palm Beach, FL and Orlando, FL.

Advance Engineers / O'Donnell & Naccarato

For more information, please contact Sean Kennedy, PE or Andrew Katz at (703) 451-5222, or visit us at www.o-n.com.