Topher Mathews at Georgetown Metropolitan does us all a service by laying out the timeline of the Old Georgetown Board‘s review of the Wisconsin Avenue Apple Store, attacking the perception that design review was what held the project up for a year and a half. Certainly, Apple took long enough to come back with revised designs, and didn’t read the cues from the notoriously picky tribunal. But here’s my question: Why shouldn’t the store just have been okayed in the first place?
The original design, shown above, is actually quite similar to how it looks now. When it was submitted, the OGB decided it wanted some totally unnecessary window and door frames, so as to better match the buildings to either side. Apple came back with its classic glass box, which they should have known the OGB would never accept. The next design had a garish Apple logo (I mean, honestly). Finally, they came up with a Federal-style building that blends seamlessly into the street frontage.
I just fail to see any objective case for why a full glass front was so offensive. It would contrast with the surroundings, sure, but in a way that accents them, not insults them. It’s not “out of scale” with the neighborhood. That would also have been true of a glass box design. The very premise that everything must be made to look the same in a commercial area is baseless; many neighborhoods include styles from all different eras that may have been disallowed had a similar board been empowered to stop them at the time when they were built.
Topher holds up an ugly building in Glover Park as an example of what happens with no design review. But that’s a straw man argument: Georgetown is still an historic district, and so would be subject to historic preservation regulations. Things like garish logos probably wouldn’t have made it through that level of review, but if citizens are truly worried, they could be taken care of with an overlay that contains design guidelines.
I’ve ranted against the OGB before, and I’ll stick by that position, because I think there are better ways to deal with architectural quality than subjecting builders to the aesthetic whims of federally-appointed commissioners who have some pretty conservative ideas of how a neighborhood ought to look.