Project Description

DESIGN PROJECT (Academic):

Convert a 19th Century townhouse from a single-family home to a Tourist Information/Visitor Center, in the location of your choice where you live.

BRIEF:

The submitted drawings show a three-floor interior layout, and the site has a driveway on one side that leads to a small parking lot for staff and visitors.  There is a deep slope from the front to the back of the site, which gives access to the ground floor at the front of the building, and to the basement floor at the rear.  The building features excellent views from the rear at the ground and second-floor levels.

The building is a mix of styles (Federal and Georgian) and has been stripped of most of its character over the years.  The exterior is covered in a drab grey stucco, and upon inspection, I discovered red brick underneath, and the structure retains its grey slate roof.  The simple six-over-six double-hung sash windows are original to the structure.  Further, most of the original interior features (fireplaces, doors, baseboards, picture and dado rails, cornices) have been removed.  Sadly, the original timber staircase no longer remains, replaced by plain precast concrete.  In addition, most of the ground floor hard surface flooring (hardwood) was also replaced with cast concrete.

Recent improvements consist of a lift near the front entrance and a new fire escape in the rear.  The lift is ADA compliant.  The load-bearing walls are in excellent condition.  Given all of the above, the basic room proportions on all three floors have been retained and I see it as an exciting project.

SPACE PLANNING:

  • Entrance and Reception
  • Information Area
  • Permanent Exhibition Gallery
  • Temporary Exhibition Gallery
  • Cafe
  • Souvenir Shop
  • Small Workshop/Storage Space
  • Cleaners Room
  • Systems Room
  • Managers Office
  • Support Staff Offices
  • Staff Facilities
  • Restrooms (1 ADA Compliant)

ZONING:

  • Basement, Ground Level, Second Level
  • Public, Private, Semi-Private

CONCEPT:

For this cultural-tourism center, I am approaching it the way I would a decorator show house, but the difference is that I have new ideas and required guidelines relating to circulation, public safety, and egress.  Modest demolition and new construction are necessary.

The decisions on how to approach the scheme were three-fold.  1) create an environment that respects the architecture. 2) Answer the need for the new function (single-family home to public use). 3) Design with an emphasis on activities in Washington that revolve more around the historical, decorative and performing,  arts.  Washington DC has a tourism branch for many activities.  This center is more exclusive.

This was obviously a large single-family home at one time, and an adaptive re-use project on a private home requires considerable thoughts around egress, circulation, water consumption, and wear and tear on materials, furnishings, and surfaces.

Fortunately, the budget for this project is generously provided by Federal funds and private owners.  The private owners wanted something different from the standard tourist center—more art, decorative arts, and historic architecture.

ANALYSIS:

The first step was to think about how the visitor would enter, circulate, participate, and exit. The large room to the left of the entry was vast and my first thought was to convert that room into a dual reception/entry off of a new courtyard.  However, after close scrutiny of the brief, the square footage was not sufficient.

It was back to the original entry, which by architectural references does not appear true to the Federal-style entry. In fact, the structure appears to be a mix of English late Georgian (1760-1810) and some Federal (1776-1820). After meeting with the owners, I am considering demolishing the porch with its narrow single door and two windows, for a larger entry. The current design hides the beautiful entry door with fanlight and sidelights and blocks daylight from the North. All three parties agreed and I proceeded to enlist a structural engineer and a general contractor to discuss the project.

Removing doors, and creating new openings would allow good circulation and egress in the event of an emergency.  I decided to create the information room (left from the entry hall), and the permanent exhibition room on the right.

In terms of circulation, I noted a dangerous situation.  The entry to the 2nd-floor temporary exhibit space is sited too close to the staircase.  Someone running out of that room could potentially meet someone ascending the stairs, ending with a disaster and a potential lawsuit for the owners.

My solution is to construct a new wall (vestibule) that eases the transition from stairs to the room.  This area will be lit from embedded LED linear lighting, and a convex mirror mounted over a Tromp L’Oeil wall console table on the North wall.  This is similar to exterior situations when exiting parking garages.  Those ascending the stairs, and leaving the room can now see each other in time to adjust their steps. Note that the mirror will be partially recessed into the lift wall. Finally, this room will feature new hardwood flooring, painted ceiling and walls, and traditional architectural millwork.

Being a native Washingtonian, I have an in-depth knowledge of the city, and its rich history.  The arts are a large part of my upbringing, and my interest and appreciation for the decorative arts, music, architecture, and furnishings began at an early age. I have had considerable time to think about how to present this project.  As mentioned previously, when it comes to historic preservation, I am sensitive to what remains of the existing structure, and what improvements/corrections it may need. In my opinion, any interior design scheme cannot begin until the bones are good.

Once I finally arrived at a pleasing array of restoration and enhancements, I could focus on the interior (as without, so within). American Federal architecture is more refined than its Georgian predecessor and features leaner proportions and low-relief details.  However, this is not a true period-restoration.  It is an adaptive reuse project designed for public use and appreciation.  However, because of the amenities that the center will offer to discerning visitors, there must be a certain level of elegance about it.

My intention is to restore some of the original missing details: A proper porch, hardwood flooring, crown moulding, one fireplace; and to add modern enhancements in lighting, case goods, surface materials, surface decoration, and flooring. High-quality materials, durability, and attention to geometry in furnishings will create harmony in materials, furnishings, and colors.  A mood board gives the client an overall feeling of how space will look when finished.

ILLUMINATION:

Lighting the new space will consist of daylight, enhanced by a new skylight, and after dusk, energy-saving LED, low wattage incandescents.  The fixtures include recessed LED strip lighting, surface-mounted pendant luminaires, wall sconces, adjustable track lighting, and recessed downlights.

SURFACES:

Walls and flooring will feature durable materials, easy to keep clean.

FURNISHINGS:

Durable, and easy to clean is the first priority.  Comfort while researching in the information room is also important.  The 2nd-floor cafe will feature seating without woven soft upholstery.

Photography Renderings © Rhonald Angelo Interiors Rendering Team