Historic preservation Tuesday: Thinking of preservation as 2015 approaches
2029 Connecticut Avenue NW, DC. Flickr photo by Josh.
Even though historic architecture and urban design are some of the city's most important competitive advantages compared to other communities, the city's preservation protections only extend to buildings or areas specifically designated as historic, even though there are dozens of neighborhoods and thousands of buildings that are equally "old" and deserving of designation.
Some other cities, such as Lancaster, PA and Boston, have design review processes in place for the entire city, whether or not the area is specifically designated as historic, because those communities recognize the importance of the building fabric and architectural quality to neighborhoods and the city overall.
By contrast, the quality of DC's architecture and built environment faces constant diminishment in the face of design-inappropriate additions and modifications to existing buildings and average and poorly designed new buildings. The city is throwing away some of its key competitive advantages without much forethought.
A recent article in the Boston Globe, "Renovating in Boston? Not so fast,"discusses the various review processes there, including providing a link to a Boston Redevelopment Authority publication which outlines the building review process. From the article:
The Boston Redevelopment Authority’s Urban Design Department is responsible for conducting design review in some instances for exterior changes to homes and small businesses, BRA spokesperson Nick Martin said. They want to make sure your changes are “consistent with the character of the neighborhood.”
To get your changes approved, you have to set up a design meeting with the BRA design review staff and explain the scope of your project. The time your design takes to get approved will likely depend on how major your changes are – are you adding a roof deck or dormers? Or are you building a porch?
Come prepared with photographs, and a good understanding of how your changes could impact abutting properties.
For example, according to the Washington Business Journal, a new building at the east end of H Street on a triangular lot is proposing some kind of wacked treatment that is counter to the historical tradition of focusing on the shape of the building as the key element of its architectural character.
Instead they are proposing ersatz bolt ons on the side elevation, drawing the focus away from the angular shape of the building
But there is nothing in DC building codes to prevent them from making this wrong-headed move.
Another example is how the apartment building at 5333 Connecticut Avenue NW will have a glass facade, whereas virtually all of the other apartment buildings on Connecticut Avenue have been constructed with brick facades.
Boston is fortunate to value architectural context sensibility to the point where they have a well developed process for reviewing residential and commercial properties, with design guidelines, to ensure proposed changes are context sensitive.