Sure, you might notice the size of W.C. Smith’s newly-for-real apartment building on New Jersey Avenue in the Capitol Riverfront, at a whopping 433 units. You might also notice the even more massive amount of parking it’s planning to offer—-three full levels underground—-and that W.C. Smith’s man on the project, Konrad Schlater, also sits on the Zoning Commission.
But the more aesthetically minded will observe the architecture, by local heavyweight Phil Esocoff: A wavy, tan-brick facade and dramatic roofline, very much like 400 Massachusetts, the Dumont, 2401 Pennsylvania Avenue, and Post Mass Avenue. Esocoff has another building in the Riverfront neighborhood—-the Onyx—-but the “Park Chelsea” will be the first to employ his most signature style (his other signature style, a kind of blocky take on Washington’s rowhouse neighborhoods, is dotted around Capitol Hill).
If we can read anything into this facade, it’s the upscaling of an area that’s so far seen mostly utilitarian, institutional architecture. Unfortunately, it also continues the pattern of paying little attention to the street level, with only 1,500 square feet of ground floor retail—-not much for such a massive building (after the death of plans for a Whole Foods there, W.C. Smith might have given up on it altogether).
Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells once complained about the quality of the pedestrian experience in the blocks around the Navy Yard Metro station—-and said that if they’d been designed today, livable-walkable mores would have translated into better design. “There is no question that there would have been more attention to the architectural design flair at the pedestrian level rather than at the top of the buildings,” he told me. “If you look at the top of the buildings, they have different designs to them, but at the base of the buildings, they’re all the same.”
It’s not clear that the Park Chelsea’s any improvement in that regard.