Over the last few weeks, the District and the Army have been hashing out a final agreement about who gets what on the grounds of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, after sketching out new boundaries back in March. Over the next few months, D.C. will re-start meetings to decide what should go where on the land that it gets.
But the District isn’t the only one moving forward with plans for the site. The State Department, which will be getting the northwest corner, is working on putting together a new center for between 10 and 20 chanceries, similar to the one on Van Ness Street NW just west of Connecticut Avenue. That secluded enclave was created in the 1960s, and leased to the American outposts of 22 nations including Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Jordan. The U.S. required each country’s building to reflect its native architecture, which resulted in what the 2006 American Institute of Architects Guide to the Architecture of Washington called “dreadful pastiches of pseudo-vernacular forms.”
Neighbors aren’t just worried about ugly buildings. And they aren’t even just worried about traffic. This time around, they fear the creation of another closed-off compound that won’t benefit the surrounding community—-a “bunker,” as one citizen member of the Local Redevelopment Authority Committee put it last night. State is already talking about having a 50-foot setback between its buildings and the District’s property, which made Office of Planning director Harriet Tregoning raise her eyebrows.
Of course, the level of security will depend on the requirements of the countries that opt to locate there. In response to a question from D.C. City Administrator Allen Lew, the State Department rep said that most would be relocating from elsewhere in the District—-many of them from Embassy Row on Massachusetts Avenue, where some buildings just don’t meet a modern chancery’s needs. But most people don’t require the kind of fortification that a foreign country’s physical presence in America does these days, which means that at least a dozen or so of those buildings could become available over the next several years to interested parties, substantially weakening the area’s statist character.
I’d take Estonia, myself.