Vallen Design Studio

24 units in historic Shaw

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The owner of a large corner lot in Shaw (Northwest DC) came to Vallen Design Studio with a tough problem. He had commissioned the design of a 24-unit condominium building using an architect with a great portfolio, but with no experience designing in historic districts. Projects located in historic districts in Washington DC must go through a lengthy historic preservation review process before being placed into the normal building permit review and approval process. Architects without prior experience with the Historic Preservation Division (HPD) and Review Board (HPRB) often - as was the case here - design buildings that are inconsistent with the guidelines set by preservation officials, resulting in significant project delays and unanticipated expenses. Interestingly, a new design within a historic district does not need to blend seamlessly into the streetscape using the existing architectural style and massing; in fact, the opposite is often true. New designs need to blend harmoniously with the surrounding area, with smooth transitions between lower density blocks and higher density developments. And, they need to respect the historic fabric surrounding them while reflecting their own era. This project sits on a complicated corner, with lower-density row houses to the north on 8th Street, higher density multi-unit developments to the west toward 9th Street, and the Washington DC Convention Center directly across N Street. The design challenge, for this parcel in the Shaw Historic District, is to create an appropriate transition between the lower density homes on 8th Street and the higher density residential and commercial structures nearby. With nearly 15 years of experience working directly with HPD and the HPRB on projects in various historic districts, Michael Vallen came highly recommended to solve this developer's problem, quickly and with a design solution that answered all historic requirements AND made major improvements to the configuration of the building. Within a few weeks from the initial meeting, the new design had been reviewed and unanimously approved by both the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, and the Historic Preservation Review Board.