Last week, the Business Journal ran a profile of Eric Colbert, the architect behind literally dozens of multifamily residential buildings in the hot neighborhoods between Adams Morgan, Shaw, and Dupont Circle. You may have noticed his name on several projects underway up and down 14th Street: The one replacing Yum’s, the Verizon building at R Street, and JBG’s Utopia project on U Street. Not to mention Progression Place in Shaw, a thing in Southwest, and Northwest One. As the story explains, Colbert’s been around for 30 years now, did well through the last boom, and is ideally positioned to catch the current wave of residential projects now hitting D.C.’s inner neighborhoods.
The BizJo‘s timing was interesting, though, as I’d just interviewed Colbert the day before for my own profile that’s been in the works for a while now. It’s going to be longer and broader and take a look at the ways in which this one firm—-like Esocoff and Associates on Massachusetts Avenue—-has and will continue to shape our residential corridors.
A preview: Colbert says he gives his project architects a long leash, as long as what they’re working on is consistent with his overall vision. I asked him to describe what he meant by that. Colbert hesitated before answering.
“It has to make sense,” he said finally. “I don’t want it to be boring. But on the other hand, I don’t want to put ornamentation on a building that doesn’t have some practical foundation. Its hard for me to explain, but some buildings seem to be just kind of swoopy, just for the hell of it. And we don’t have the luxury or the desire to do that. Just the economics of an apartment building are much different than any other type of building, like the National Gallery. So the amount of discipline you have to have in doing a building like this is extreme.”
If there’s a rap on Colbert, from the folks I’ve talked to so far, it’s that his designs can be somewhat bland (with the notable exception of the Floridian, which was something special). But that’s in part a reflection of D.C.’s conservative design culture, and the developer’s tendency to go with what’s safe.
We will explore all this and more in a future edition of Housing Complex! In the mean time, please get in touch if you’ve got rants, raves, or general information about the guy who might be the biggest influence on D.C. neighborhood architecture since Harry Wardman.