Some thoughts on Park Van Ness by Ken Terzian, architect and Forest Hills resident who attended BF Saul’s presentation at last week’s ANC 3F meeting:
The presentation to the ANC this past week by BF Saul and their architects, Torti Gallas and Partners, showed drawings including floor plans, elevations, and aerial renderings of the proposed mixed use development, Park Van Ness (Download a two-page PDF of a few of their drawings by clicking here).
The West side of the building will have retail use on the ground floor adjacent to Connecticut Avenue with apartments above, matching the height of the adjacent building to the South. Underground parking will be provided for both the residences as well as the retail uses with entrance from the current alley at the south side of the building. The East side will have apartments facing Soapstone Valley from the lowest level at the forest floor up to the top level.
In a similar fashion to the architectural design on the West, the East Façade is articulated in a manner that varies the building face in height and steps back as the building height increases, allowing the residents to take advantage of roof top terraces at the street level, views in three directions, and reducing the building mass from that of the current building. The existing Van Ness Square has a singular dark glass planar face to the forest. The proposed construction was described to vary between red brick and clear vision glass. Plans of the project indicate that a majority of the building facing Soapstone Valley is set back from the building property line, and was reported by the architect to be further back from the property line than the existing building. This could benefit tree root development along this eastern side.
With regard to softening the mass along Connecticut, this is usually achieved through creating “ins and outs” along the building façade. This has been done to a minor degree on the Connecticut Ave side, but more so on the Soapstone Valley side. One might argue it is architecturally preferred to establish a reasonable building line along the Avenue, while taking advantage of more corners with increased views for the residents to appreciate the Valley views on the East. I suspect that the developers program required a certain square footage/number of units, so pulling back on one façade is likely to result in pushing it out somewhere else. I doubt that at this point they would entertain such significant design changes, nor in my opinion would it necessarily improve the building’s relationship to the site.
I do believe, however, that the streetscape design, treatment of the retail fronts, and composition of the retail tenants can have a significant impact on the pedestrian experience, and that this development may still be open for input.
My concerns with this project are primarily construction issues:
- Potential lack of enforcement during construction to maintain the sediment & erosion control, and protection of the areas off-site in Soapstone Valley given that the project is very close to the stream bed and major trees, and
- The inconvenience to the community during construction along a major pedestrian path on Connecticut Ave.
Both concerns can be managed well if care and attention are maintained.