Architecture Magazine: Bipartisan Design
By Lynn Nesmith
Reprinted from Architecture magazine
WITH THE DEMOCRATS A MAJORITY IN Congress and a Republican in the White House, successful politicians in Washington must play both sides of an issue. Keyes Condone Florance does just that with 2401 Pennsylvania Avenue, a mixed-use project that straddles stylistic and functional camps with crafted finesse.
Sited on the western end of Pennsylvania Avenue near Georgetown, 2401 Pennsylvania Avenue is a site-specific building that could only be designed by a hometown firm, notwithstanding its formal debt to Philadelphia architects Frank Furness and Robert Venturi. KCF inserted the wedge-shaped, through-block building to respect Pierre L'Enfant's vision and the neighborhood's informal character, while accommodating the 143,000-square-foot building's loading dock and underground parking entrance along the elevation fronting L Street.
Of course, the structure has a clear base, middle, and top -- anything else would be heresy in Washington. But the building is designed as a virtual patchwork of Americana with topical ornamentation, historical forms, local references, and political iconography. "Where else could you possibly replace palmetto antefixa with U.S. and D.C. flags, and use the heads of donkeys and elephants as extension plates?" asks KCF principal-in-charge Philip Esocoff.
With equal allegiance to the building's commercial and residential functions, Esocoff created two formal entries, each symmetrical unto itself Anchoring the corner of the building at 24th Street, the commercial entrance is marked by a fan-shaped canopy and a curved metal and glass tower that appears to be an exposed structural steel skeleton extending from behind the brick veneer.
The residential entrance squarely faces Pennsylvania Avenue. The architects pulled the curving masonry mass of the building away from a two-story mankato-kasota limestone screen wall punctuated with retail storefronts flanking a symmetrical front door. Rusticated horizontal bands visually strengthen the stone base, and deep inset windows increase the apparent thickness of [he brick cladding. Breaking down the building's apparent mass, the sweeping elevation divides the building into three bays, and a cast stone band of stars and stripes along the cornice line animates the facade as a great big waving flag. To highlight the residential entrance, the architects created a trio of blind niches, each outlined with green slate gilded with a ginkgo leaf pattern.
Visible from the street, a metal and wood trellis crowns the roof to define a series of outdoor rooms, and serves as a festive reminder that this space is habitable-the perfect place to watch an inaugural parade or fireworks on the Fourth of July. Occupying the top four floors, the apartment units are large and feature the same floor-to-ceiling heights as the offices, allowing an even 10-foot spacing all the way up the facade to avoid demarking the elevation where internal functions change. Esocoff believes a building's primary obligation, especially within Washington, is to define the street; differentiating internal uses is a secondary concern. "Is writing a business letter on the third floor that different from writing a love letter on the fifth floor?" he asks. "And even if it is, why does it need to be reflected in the window treatment?"
Unabashedly eclectic, 2401 Pennsylvania Avenue makes no apologies for its collage of historical references, abstracted forms, and sentimental ornamentation. But unlike many buildings of recent Postmodern vintage, this complex composition brings a new material richness to Washington and KCF's growing portfolio of commercial structures.