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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Coast Guard HQ: 2,000 Cars, No Boats

A historic campus. An idyllic untouched corner of real estate in close proximity to the seat of federal government for a great nation. The headquarters of an esteemed branch of the military and an a department headquarters for a government agency. No nation on earth could improve on a venture like that. But in the United States, we throw in a 1900 space garage.

The United States Coast Guard Headquarters design has been approved. I'm not an architect nor am I capable of eloquently stating my disgust at a coast guard headquarters that looks like a spa retreat off in the woods despite the nearby convergence of two navigable rivers, but I will openly take issue with the 1,973 space garage. It is definitely better than surface parking, but this is a historic site, virgin land with views of the convergence of the rivers, the Capitol, and the monuments. Real estate in America doesn't get more prime than this. And DHS is dropping a greenified Tyson's Corner transplant with a huge garage in the middle of it, complete with a sexed up drainage pond and ample parking.

I've advocated that a campus like this ought to house an institution of higher learning, particularly UDC. To me, that would be the ideal way to dignify that site (Although I don't know what your average UDC student would think about moving into dorms that formerly housed mental patients... but one would think the good people hat DHS and the Coast Guard would have similar concerns!)

I'll admit my reaction is perhaps a bit pessimistic considering that I have not seen an illustration or elevation that contextualizes the complex amongst the St. E's buildings, but with streetcars imminent, location near two Metro stations, and traffic congestion already problematic, a huge parking garage has me worried that this is just going to be another office park like those in Columbia, Gaithersburg, or Tyson's Corner.

The garage is built into a slope visible from Haines Point. Several measures were put in place to minimize the visual impact of the structure, such as putting more of it underground and a green wall system on the northern facade, however on an important site like this with available transit alternatives, I would expect better planning and land use than a green-guilt version of the same disposable crap office box we have all come to know and hate.

Students of architecture, I beg your input on this one. I am at a loss for words. If the Army built something that ugly, I would be even more embarrassed as a veteran than I am when West Point gets annihilated by the Naval Academy in football every December.


IMGoph said...

we in the US (and the feds, specifically) are afraid to try something new, innovative, or (gasp) smart.

i could rant about how silly it is that this isn't being used as a "campus" for something, but i know i'm just screaming against a howling wind—no one is going to hear me.

Froggie said...

A couple points of issue:

- According to DCMud, the parking garage will serve both the Coast Guard HQ and the DHS headquarters, not just the Coast Guard.

- I'm a regular visitor through the area (in part because I do most of my shopping at the Bolling Commissary). Unless and until the streetcar is running along MLK, this campus really won't be easily accessible via transit. In no small part because Congress Heights is over a mile away, and the setup of the Anacostia station doesn't lend itself very well to use from the south/southwest (especially Bolling, but even St. Elizabeth's to a degree). And the Barry Farms neighborhood is akin to a warzone...

IMGoph said...

barry farm. better watch it! :)